Saturday, February 24, 2018

Arkansas issues 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 courthouse; the officiant wore a rainbow-colored dress.

In total, 15 licenses were issued for same-sex couples in northwest Arkansas' Carroll County, Osborn said.

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.

Rambo, 26, and Seaton, 27, were the first gay couple to be legally married. 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.

As dawn came, no one was certain any clerk would issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple. Initially, deputy clerk Lana Gordon said she wasn't sure she had the authority and shooed people from her office.

"We just walked out of here crying," Rambo said.

When Osborn intervened, other same-sex couples let Rambo and Seaton return to their place in line.

"And some of these people here have been waiting 50 years and they still instructed us to come up front," Rambo said.

It wasn't immediately known whether other counties issued licenses Saturday.

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

"The court didn't give us any time to get the kinks worked out," Villines said.

Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said he would appeal the ruling.

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