LITTLE ROCK — All state and local laws in Arkansas barring same-sex marriage are unconstitutional, a Pulaski County circuit judge declared Thursday, but the Jefferson County attorney continued to advise local officials against issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Also Thursday, the state attorney general’s office asked the state Supreme Court to stay Piazza’s ruling and a state legislator said a vote could be taken Friday on a resolution expressing legislative opposition to gay marriage.
Judge Chris Piazza, who last week ruled that Arkansas’ 2004 constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman violates both the state and federal constitutions, issued a final order Thursday clarifying that he intended the ruling to apply to any laws that bar same-sex marriage in the state.
Asked for reaction Thursday, Jefferson County attorney Jackie Harris said the ruling doesn’t change the advice he gave Jefferson County Clerk Patricia Royal Johnson on Monday: not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples because the Pulaski County Court does not have jurisdiction over Jefferson County.
“There will be an appeal filed and the [Arkansas] Supreme Court will make a decision and give the county clerks the clarity they’re looking for,” Harris said. “When they happens, we will follow the law.”
Piazza’s ruling came in a lawsuit filed by several same-sex couples. Piazza said Thursday that all defendants in the suit are enjoined from enforcing the constitutional amendment and state and local laws “to the extent they do not recognize same-sex marriages validly contracted outside Arkansas, prohibit otherwise qualified same-sex couples from marrying in Arkansas or deny same-sex married couples the rights, recognition and benefits associated with marriage in the state of Arkansas.”
The judge issued the order a day after the state Supreme Court declined a state request to stay the order and dismissed without prejudice the state’s appeal, saying that Piazza had not yet issued a final order and had left a number of questions unanswered.
Piazza said his final order was intended to clarify his original intent and “to clarify and protect the rights and interests of all who reasonably relied upon and/or acted in accordance with” his previous order.
The attorney general’s office and an attorney representing four county clerks named as defendants in the suit filed separate motions with the Supreme Court on Thursday asking for a stay of the order. Both said a stay is needed to avoid confusion.
“Only this Court or the United States Supreme Court can decide the constitutionality of Arkansas’s marriage laws in a way that commands the respect, allegiance and compliance of the entire state — and until this court or the United States Supreme Court provides that decision, any lower court ruling is subject to reversal,” Assistant Attorney General Colin Jorgensen argued in the state’s motion.
State Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, said Thursday that he and other legislators were working on a resolution to present to the state Legislative Council on Friday that would, if approved by a vote of that body, ask the state Supreme Court to reverse Piazza’s ruling and affirm legislative support for the state’s constitutional amendment barring same-sex marriage.
Rapert said he expected the resolution to have nearly 30 co-sponsors. He said the nonbinding resolution would not call for Piazza’s impeachment because calling on the Supreme Court to reverse him is “probably the best course of action.”
The senator also said there may be a push to place on the November ballot an initiative to allow judicial recall elections.
“Judge Piazza may not be on the ballot, but the court of public opinion is speaking and I think that he’s in big trouble,” Rapert said.
Between them, the county clerks of Pulaski and Washington counties, both named as defendants in the lawsuit challenging the same-sex marriage ban, have issued more than 450 marriage licenses to same-sex couples this week. Clerks in a few other counties began issuing marriage licenses after Piazza’s May 9 ruling but later stopped on the advice of lawyers.
Pulaski County Clerk Larry Crane said his office stopped issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples Thursday morning because of the Supreme Court’s ruling that issues remained unresolved, but the office resumed issuing the licenses Thursday afternoon after Piazza issued his final order.
“We had several couples come in this morning who were turned away, and I assume that they will come back this afternoon just as soon as they get word,” Crane said.
By 4:30 p.m. Crane’s office had issued 10 marriage licenses to same-sex couples Thursday.
A worker in the office of Washington County Clerk Becky Lewallen said the office chose not to issue any marriage licenses to same-sex couples on Thursday, though Lewallen was seeking legal advice on the matter. Lewallen did not immediately return a call Thursday seeking comment.
The county clerks of Conway, Lonoke, Saline and White counties, all named as defendants in the suit, also chose not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples Thursday. Some clerks said they were seeking legal advice.