Feedback
News

Gay Couples Marry in Arkansas as Many Clerks Sit Out

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — More than 200 gay couples obtained Arkansas marriage licenses Monday after a judge tossed out the state's 10-year-old same-sex marriage ban, but only at a handful of courthouses as an overwhelming majority of county clerks in this part of the Bible Belt said they first wanted the state Supreme Court to weigh in.

Attorney General Dustin McDaniel — who recently announced his personal support for same-sex marriage rights but said he would defend the law — filed paperwork Monday to at least temporarily preserve the ban, which voters approved by a 3-to-1 margin.

In other states that have seen gay-marriage bans overturned, judges either issued stays with their orders or state lawyers sought them with some immediacy. McDaniel's office requested a stay from the local judge Friday night but had to wait until the full court record was available Monday before going to the state Supreme Court, under the justices' rules. Justices gave both sides until midday Tuesday to file arguments.

With the weddings Saturday and Monday, Arkansas became the 18th state to allow same-sex marriages, and the first among former states of the Confederacy.

On our licenses, it automatically prints 'Mr.' and I told the girls just to change that to 'Ms.'" said Becky Lewallen, the county clerk in Washington County, which is home to the University of Arkansas. She was among those who requested a stay.

A Pulaski County circuit judge tossed out the 2004 constitutional amendment, along with a 1997 state law, after business hours Friday. Carroll County, home to the town of Eureka Springs and known for its arts environment and liberal policies, issued 15 licenses to same-sex couples Saturday but stopped Monday to await word from the state's high court.

Image: Judge Herbert Wright signs the marriage license of Steven Gibson and Mark Hightower in the Judges chambers at the Pulaski County Courthouse in Little Rock
Judge Herbert Wright (L) signs the marriage license of Steven Gibson and Mark Hightower (R) in the Judges chambers at the Pulaski County Courthouse in Little Rock, Arkansas May 12, 2014. JACOB SLATON / Reuters

The 2004 gay-marriage ban passed in all 75 counties, but fared poorest around Eureka Springs, Fayetteville and Little Rock — where the bulk of the licenses have been issued.

Shelly Butler, 51, and Susan Barr, 48, of Dallas, were the first to marry at Little Rock, arriving from Texas late Sunday night. They were allowed to go to the head of the line because Barr, who has a form of muscular dystrophy, is in a wheelchair.

“I am just in shock, I think. You go from being so private and hidden to such a public display of commitment. It's just so nice," Barr said.

— The Associated Press