Without explanation, the Arkansas Supreme Court on Friday halted the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples by granting a request to stay a lower court ruling that had invalidated all laws against gay marriage.
Hundreds of gays and lesbians have married across the Razorback State since Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza ruled a week earlier that the state’s ban on gay marriage was unconstitutional. What he called a clerical error prompted confusion among Arkansas’ 75 county clerks, leaving some of them willing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples while others refused.
The state Supreme Court is still considering an appeal of Piazza’s ruling.
With Arkansas on hold, 17 states and the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriage. Ten years ago Saturday, Massachusetts was the first state to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples after that state’s Supreme Court ruled a ban on gay marriage to be unconstitutional.
Arkansas Attorney General. Dustin McDaniel has said he will defend the ban, which defined marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman, despite his personal misgivings about the measure.
In requesting an emergency stay, McDaniel and the six counties named as defendants in a lawsuit said the Supreme Court needed to stop the confusion.
They argued that the lawmakers need to consider the potential effects should Piazza’s ruling be upheld. The counties said that, for example, an initial review of the ruling suggests a man would be able to marry his brother.
The couples who brought the lawsuit said a stay would inflict on them further delays in receiving the same legal and financial benefits as opposite-sex couples.
“The very purpose of marriage, in large part, is to provide security in the face of the certainty of death, the strong likelihood of eventual incapacity, and the always-present possibility of debilitating accidents or illnesses,” attorneys for the couples wrote in a legal filing Friday. “Same-sex couples who wish to marry are subjected to irreparable harm every day that they are denied their right and forced to live without the protection and security that marriage provides.”
The same-sex marriage licenses issued in the last week are likely to be held valid at least by federal authorities, who’ve done so in similar situations in Utah and Michigan this year.