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Judges Strike Down Arkansas, Mississippi Gay Marriage Bans

Federal judges on Tuesday struck down same-sex marriage bans in Mississippi and Arkansas, opening the door to gay nuptials in the Deep South. If their decisions stand, they could bring the number of states that allow gays and lesbians to wed to 37.

U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves in Mississippi said the state’s gay marriage ban violated same-sex couples the rights guaranteed under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. He stayed his ruling for 14 days but also noted clerks could not issue gay marriage licenses until further guidance was given from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals or the U.S. Supreme Court (the 5th circuit is currently considering challenges to same-sex marriage bans from other states in its area).

"This court joins the vast majority of federal courts to conclude that same-sex couples and the children they raise are equal before the law," Reeves wrote in his opinion. "The state of Mississippi cannot deny them the marriage rights and responsibilities it holds out to opposite-sex couples and their children."

Attorney General Jim Hood said the state would appeal the decision to the 5th Circuit and ask for a stay until that court decides the cases before it.

Nonethless, same-sex couples rejoiced the judge's decision.

"We’re thrilled. ... Mississippi was not last. Mississippi was not last. Imagine that. And Arkansas the same day," said Charlene Smith-Smathers, 63, who has been with her wife, Dee, 73, for 28 years. "It’s moving a great deal faster than I ever had dreamed it might. It is changing and it is only a matter of time now."

In Arkansas, U.S. District Court Judge Kristine Baker said the state must recognize gay marriage and those same-sex nuptials performed out of state. Failure to do so had violated the due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment, she said. Like the Mississippi judge, she stayed her decision pending a challenge by the state to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

A spokesman for Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel was reviewing the ruling and a decision on whether to appeal will be made after Thanksgiving and in consultation with the Attorney General-elect, The Associated Press reported.

Thirty-five states plus the District of Columbia now allow gays and lesbians to wed.

Three federal circuit courts of appeal have ruled in favor of same-sex nuptials this year, but the 6th Circuit ruled against it in early November — posing a legal conflict that experts believe will force the Supreme Court to make a definitive ruling on gay marriage.

IN-DEPTH

— Miranda Leitsinger