Federal lawsuit filed challenging state’s marriage amendment


LITTLE ROCK — Three same-sex couples filed a federal lawsuit Monday challenging Arkansas’ constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Little Rock alleges that Amendment 83, approved by voters in 2004 with 75 percent of the vote, violates the couples’ constitutional rights.

The plaintiffs are Rita and Pam Jernigan, Becca and Tara Austin and Randy and Gary Eddy-McCain. According to the suit, the Jernigans and the Austins applied with the Pulaski County circuit and court clerk for marriage licenses on July 11, and their applications were rejected because of the marriage amendment.

The Eddy-McCains were married in 2012 in New York, which recognizes same-sex marriage, but they “are treated as legal strangers in their home state of Arkansas,” the suit states.

“Because the state of Arkansas refuses to allow plaintiffs to marry, or to have their legitimate marriages in other states recognized in Arkansas, plaintiffs are being denied the right to equal protection of the law” guaranteed by the 14th Amendment, the suit alleges.

The plaintiffs are seeking an order that Amendment 83 and all other Arkansas laws that refuse to allow or recognize gay marriage are unconstitutional.

On July 2, Kendall and Julia Wright, a lesbian couple, filed a lawsuit in Pulaski County Circuit Court challenging Amendment 83.

On Friday, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel rejected a proposed ballot initiative that would repeal Amendment 83, saying its wording was not impartial and did not explain the effect it would have on existing law. The measure’s sponsor, the group Arkansans for Equality, said it would revise the proposal and submit it again.

The U.S. Supreme Court on July 1 struck down the Clinton-era Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman. The ruling made same-sex married couples eligible for federal benefits, but the nation’s highest court left it to individual states to decide who can marry.

The Christian conservative Family Council spearheaded the drive for Amendment 83. The group’s president, Jerry Cox, did not return a call seeking comment Monday afternoon but said after the Wrights filed their lawsuit that if the amendment were legally suspect it would not have stood unchallenged for nearly a decade.