For a few days at least, same-sex marriage came to Arkansas, one of the deepest red states in America.
Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza’s ruling on Friday overturning the state’s voter-approved constitutional ban on same-sex marriage opened the floodgates of pent-up vows in Arkansas. The very next day, hundreds, including many from neighboring states, lined up outside a courthouse in northwest Arkansas seeking legal recognition for their same-sex relationships.
Perhaps one of the best illustration of the historic moment is this image of The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s “marriage licenses” section, which appeared in the newspaper on Wednesday.
On any other day, the feature takes up a few lines of text—no more. But after hundreds of same-sex couples, many of them long-time partners, received marriage licenses for the first time, the page is now half full:
Today, however, Arkansas is still deeply mired in confusion over whether the Friday ruling gives clerks the authority to issue marriage licenses.
On Friday, a circuit court ruling found the state’s constitutional ban on same sex marriage and a similar 1997 law unconstitutional. But the state Supreme Court said on Wednesday night that a separate law governing the conduct of clerks, and which levies penalties for issuing same-sex marriages, remains in place.
That latest ruling has caused the issuing of marriage licenses came to a halt today, even though the state Supreme Court denied the request of Attorney General Dustin McDaniel for an emergency stay of the lower court’s ruling.
Two of the state’s largest counties, Washington and Pulaski, which includes Little Rock, began accepting applications on Monday and continued until Wednesday. And several others –Caroll, Marion and Saline— initially issued licenses but stopped on Monday, citing the need for more clarity.
All of Arkansas’s remaining 70 counties declined to issue marriage licenses, citing the need for more judicial clarity after the Friday ruling.
Today’s abrupt end to marriage in the state — for now– makes the decision Arkansas artist Zeek Taylor and his husband Dick Titus’s decision to rush to the courthouse as soon as possible on Saturday all the more prescient.
Of the more than 400 couples who have married since the landmark ruling Friday evening, Taylor and Titus were the third.
And seeing the massive two-column list of names—most of them same-sex couples—in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette was an emotional experience for them.
“It brought me to tears. It seemed like such a historic page to be in the newspaper today. Its unbelievable that in Arkansas, in the South, that there were so many listings of same sex couples in the marriage page,” Taylor said. “And the page was two to three times larger than normal and it was an amazing moment.”
Nestled in the Ozark Mountains of northwest Arkansas, Eureka Springs – population roughly 2,000—became the epicenter of Arkansas’s literally overnight transformation as the first state in the South to legalize gay marriage.
Taylor and his partner of 42 years, both residents of the town, were one of the first gay male couples to marry in the state on Saturday.
Eureka Spring’s courthouse is the only one in the state open on Saturdays and by the time it was scheduled to open at 9 a.m., hundreds of couples had gathered outside.
For roughly an hour, confusion reigned after a deputy clerk refused to issue marriage licenses to the couples, saying, according to Taylor, that she would only marry “normal couples.”
“Since I lived in Eureka Springs, I knew this person and I confronted her,” Taylor said. “I had the ruling in my hand. And I said…we had every right to get a marriage license.”
More than an hour later (and after nearly being escorted out of the courthouse by police), they did, with the help of another courthouse clerk who issued as many marriage licenses that she could by 1 p.m.
The next morning, Taylor and Titus woke up together as they had for so many years.
“In one sense nothing had changed for us,” Taylor said. “We have been together for 42 years and in a committed relationship. We woke up in a committed relationship, except that we had a piece of paper giving us our legal rights.”
“It just eased our mind to know that we had that protection–that protection of marriage,” he said.
The Arkansas Times will also run this cover image this week: