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Gay Marriages Begin in Ark. as State Requests Stay

By Brett Snider, Esq. on May 12, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Gay marriage took a giant step in Arkansas over the weekend, with hundreds of same-sex couples flocking to Little Rock to get married after a controversial court ruling.

Pulaski County Judge Chris Piazza ruled Friday that Arkansas' ban on gay marriage violated same-sex couples' equal protection under the law, reports Reuters. Pulaski County is the state's most populous and includes Little Rock, the state's capital.

Can gays now freely marry in Arkansas?

Opponents Wait on Stay

About one-third of U.S. states and Washington, D.C., now legally allow same-sex couples to marry. With 15 couples obtaining marriage licenses Saturday, Arkansas may be the first state in the "South" to allow gay marriages.

But USA Today reports that Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel requested Monday that the state Supreme Court impose a stay on the ruling -- hoping to effectively stop gay marriages in the state. Meantime, every county is reacting differently to Friday's ruling.

Little Rock court clerk Larry Crane told Reuters he "felt obligated" to register gay marriages after the ruling because he was named as a defendant in the actual suit. However, USA Today reports that Baxter and Boone Counties have been advised not to issue gay marriage licenses.

This situation is similar to the one seen in Utah, where until the U.S. Supreme Court stepped in and granted a stay, the legal status of marriage was very unclear.

Court Likely to Grant Stay

Gay marriage proponents argue that no harm could possibly come from allowing same-sex couples in Arkansas to marry while this case is appealed, but courts have favored caution in this legal arena. Adjacent states Texas and Oklahoma both had lower courts strike down their respective gay marriage bans as unconstitutional, but both rulings were immediately stayed.

If and when a stay is granted on Judge Piazza's decision, there will likely be no future gay marriages in Arkansas until the case is appealed. However, those couples who were married before the potential stay may be recognized as married by the federal government -- even if the state does not.

Until then, gay and lesbian couples in Arkansas will likely continue to seek marriage licenses in the counties that permit it.

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