LITTLE ROCK — The state Supreme Court on Wednesday denied a request to stay a circuit judge’s ruling that Arkansas’ same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional, saying the judge has not ruled on a state law that prohibits county clerks from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
The high court also dismissed without prejudice the state’s appeal of Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza’s ruling, saying Piazza has not yet issued a final order.
Piazza ruled Friday that Arkansas’ constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman violates rights guaranteed under both the state and federal constitutions. A handful of counties reacted to the ruling by beginning to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples, though by Wednesday only Pulaski and Washington counties were continuing to do so.
The state attorney general’s office filed an appeal this week with the state Supreme Court and asked the court to stay Piazza’s ruling, and the plaintiffs, a group of Arkansas same-sex couples, responded by asking the court to dismiss the appeal and deny a stay.
On Wednesday morning, the attorney general’s office argued in a filing with the Supreme Court that confusion over Piazza’s ruling is “pervasive” and that the ruling left many questions unanswered.
“If a stay is issued, and this court determines that there is no final and appealable order, and therefore the state’s ability to appeal will arise after the entry of a subsequent final order by the Circuit Court, then the state does not object to an order dismissing this appeal and allowing the state to pursue its appeal in the ordinary course,” Assistant Attorney General Colin Jorgensen wrote in the filing.
The high court said in its ruling Wednesday afternoon that Piazza had not yet issued a final order, so “we have no jurisdiction to hear the appeal.”
The court also said Piazza’s ruling did not address Arkansas Code Annotated 9-11-208(b), which prohibits issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
“Therefore, the circuit court’s order has no effect on Ark. Code Ann. 9-11-208(b) and its prohibition against circuit and county clerks issuing same-sex marriage licenses,” the Supreme Court said in explaining why it would not issue a stay.
Aaron Sadler, spokesman for Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, said Wednesday, “In the past few days, county clerks have been uncertain about their responsibilities and couples unable to know definitively whether their marriage will remain valid. A stay issued by either the Supreme Court or Judge Piazza would have brought some certainty.
“Unfortunately, today’s decision did not do that. Instead, we will move forward handling our responsibility to defend the constitution and appeal the judge’s decision at the appropriate time.”
Jack Wagoner, attorney for the plaintiffs in the case, said he believes Piazza intended to strike down the statute the Supreme Court cited.
“We would hope to get Judge Piazza’s clarification that … that statute and any others that are in conflict with his ruling are unconstitutional as well and that that was the intent of his ruling,” he said.
Hundreds of same sex-couples have obtained marriage licenses since Piazza issued his ruling. Arkansas is the first state in the South to extend marriage rights to gays.
The Pulaski County clerk’s office said it issued 40 marriage licenses to same-sex couples Wednesday, bringing the total number it has issued since Piazza’s ruling to 313.
The Washington County clerk’s office said it issued 16 marriage licenses to same-sex couples Wednesday, bringing its total to 138.