A decade after Arkansas voters amended their state constitution to ban same-sex marriage, two women were married on a sidewalk outside a county courthouse in Eureka Springs today.
Kristin Seaton, 27, and Jennifer Rambo, 26, exchanged vows at an impromptu ceremony, officiated by a woman in a rainbow-colored dress.
They’d spent the night in their car after driving from their Fort Smith home in order to be among the first couples in line when the courthouse opened and the first to marry. They've been together for four years.
On Friday, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza pronounced the ban "an unconstitutional attempt to narrow the definition of equality. But uncertainty remained regarding whether county clerks were authorized to grant marriage certificates to same-sex couples.
One county deputy clerk said she wasn't authorized. She questioned whether Piazza's order in a courtroom 150 miles away had any bearing in Eureka Springs.
But another clerk issued the license. “Thank God,” Rambo said.
Piazza declined to put his ruling on hold, a judges in other states have done in order to give opponents the chance to respond.
That caused confusion among the state's 75 county clerks, Association of Arkansas Counties executive director Chris Villines told The Associated Press. He said Piazza should have issued a stay, just to avoid Saturday's scramble.
"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 and asked for its suspension during that process. No appeal had been filed as of Saturday morning when the license was issued.
Jerry Cox, president of the Arkansas Family Council, which promoted the anti-equality amendment in 2004, said Piazza's failure to suspend his ruling will create confusion if a stay is issued later.
"Are these people married? Are they unmarried?" Cox said. "Judge Piazza did a tremendous disservice to the people of Arkansas by leaving this in limbo."
Federal judges have ruled against marriage bans in Michigan, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Texas, and ordered Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee to recognize same-sex marriages from other states.
In all, according to gay-rights groups, more than 70 lawsuits seeking marriage equality are pending in about 30 states. Democratic attorneys general in several states — including Virginia, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Oregon and Kentucky — have declined to defend same-sex marriage bans.
Arkansas' ruling came a week after McDaniel became the first statewide elected official to announce he personally supports gay marriage rights. But he said he would continue to defend the constitutional ban in court.