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Arkansas Begins Issuing Same-Sex Marriage Licenses

EUREKA SPRINGS, Ark. — Gay marriage arrived in the Bible Belt on Saturday, beginning with two women who had traveled overnight to ensure they'd be first in line.

"Thank God," Jennifer Rambo said after Carroll County Deputy Clerk Jane Osborn issued a marriage license to her and Kristin Seaton, a former volleyball player at the University of Arkansas. The Fort Smith couple wed moments later on a sidewalk near the county courthouse; the officiant wore a rainbow-colored dress.

In total, 15 licenses were issued for same-sex couples in northwest Arkansas, Osborn said after the office closed Saturday afternoon.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza paved the way Friday with a ruling that removed a 10-year-old barrier, saying a constitutional amendment overwhelmingly passed by voters in 2004 banning gay marriage was "an unconstitutional attempt to narrow the definition of equality." Piazza's ruling also overturned a 1997 state law banning gay marriage.

But because Piazza didn't issue a stay, Arkansas' 75 county clerks were left to decide for themselves whether to grant marriage licenses.

Image: Jennifer Rambo, right, smiles as her partner Kristin Seaton, center, hugs Sheryl Maples, left, the lead attorney who filed the Wright v. the State of Arkansas lawsuit
Jennifer Rambo, right, smiles as her partner Kristin Seaton, center, hugs Sheryl Maples, left, the lead attorney who filed the Wright v. the State of Arkansas lawsuit, on May 10 in Eureka Springs, Ark. A judge overturned amendment 83 Friday, which banned same-sex marriage in the state of Arkansas. Sarah Bentham / AP

Rambo, 26, and Seaton, 27, were the first gay couple to be legally married in the old Confederacy. They arrived about 2 a.m., slept in a Ford Focus and awoke every half-hour to make sure no one else would take a spot at the head of the line.

Piazza's lack of a stay caused confusion among the state's county clerks, said Association of Arkansas Counties executive director Chris Villines.

The U.S. Supreme Court last year ruled that a law forbidding the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages was unconstitutional. Using language similar to that from the Supreme Court, state and federal judges nationwide have struck down other same-sex marriage bans.

Arkansas' amendment was passed in 2004 with the overwhelming support of Arkansas voters. Piazza's ruling also overturned a 1997 state law banning gay marriage.

Arkansas' ruling came a week after Attorney General, Dustin McDaniel became the first statewide elected official to announce he personally supports gay marriage rights. But he said he would continue to defend the constitutional ban in court.

— The Associated Press