May 16, 2014 6:11 pm

Arkansas high court suspends equal marriage ruling

Beth Moore, left, signs her marriage license as her partner, Abby Hill, right, looks on at the Washington County Courthouse in Fayetteville, Ark., Friday May 16, 2014.

Sarah Bentham / The Associated Press

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas’ highest court halted the distribution of marriage licenses to same-sex couples Friday as it suspended a judge’s ruling that struck down the state’s same-sex marriage ban.

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The state Supreme Court granted a request to put on hold Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza’s decision voiding a 2004 constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman. Piazza struck down the ban last week, and expanded that ruling Thursday to include all state laws preventing gay couples from marrying.

Pulaski County, the state’s largest, had resumed issuing same-sex marriage licenses immediately after Piazza’s ruling Thursday, while Washington County began issuing them again Friday morning.

More than 450 same-sex couples received Arkansas marriage licenses since Piazza’s ruling last week.

Attorney General Dustin McDaniel and four counties named in the lawsuit had asked the high court to suspend Piazza’s decision while it’s on appeal, saying it would lead to confusion among Arkansas’ 75 counties.

A lawyer for the couples suing over Arkansas’ ban said they’d now focus on the appeal before the state Supreme Court and said he was confident the state’s prohibition would ultimately be struck.

“The handwriting’s on the wall from the United States Supreme Court,” attorney Jack Wagoner said. “Unless every court is reading the U.S. Supreme Court wrong, the days of barring same-sex couples from marrying are coming to an end.”

McDaniel’s office said the order ended the uncertainty for the state’s clerks.

“As this office stated in its pleadings, a stay prevents confusion and uncertainty until the Arkansas Supreme Court decides this matter on appeal,” said McDaniel spokesman Aaron Sadler. “The court today made the right decision to issue a stay, as other courts across the country have done in similar circumstances.”

Seventeen other states allow gay marriage. Judges have struck down bans in Idaho, Michigan, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Virginia. In some places judges have put their own orders on hold, while in others higher courts have done so after court clerks allowed some same-sex couples to marry.

In Idaho, plans for same-sex marriages to begin Friday were put on hold as the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals considered whether the governor and attorney general should have more time to file an appeal a judge’s ruling overturning its state ban.

The Arkansas Supreme Court had denied a request earlier in the week to stay Piazza’s initial ruling, but still effectively halted same-sex weddings by also noting that a separate law prohibiting clerks from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples was still on the books.

In his revised and expanded order, Piazza said no one in the state was harmed by the marriage licenses issued to same-sex couples. He rejected the state’s request to put his decision on hold, saying gay couples would be harmed by that action.

Friday’s ruling came as Democrats in the state Legislature blocked an effort by Republicans to wade into the debate. A resolution calling on the court to uphold the gay marriage ban and invalidate the licenses issued to same-sex couples failed before a legislative panel.

© The Associated Press, 2014

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