LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Couples lined up before dawn Monday outside Little Rock's courthouse as the state's largest county began issuing gay marriage licenses following a judge's ruling overturning Arkansas' constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.
The Pulaski County clerk's office issued its first same-sex marriage license shortly after 8 a.m. After business hours closed Friday, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza ruled that Arkansas' voter-approved ban on gay marriage was unconstitutional. Piazza did not issue a stay, and 15 same-sex couples obtained marriage licenses Saturday in the left-leaning tourist town of Eureka Springs.
The first Little Rock license went to Shelly Butler, 51, and Susan Barr, 48, of Dallas, who have been together since they met at Southern Arkansas University in 1985.
"When we heard the news in Arkansas, we had to jump in the car to get here," Butler said shortly before receiving the license. "I'm just excited to marry my best friend of almost 30 years, finally."
The second couple to receive a license was Thomas Baldwin, 37, and Devin Rudeseal, 24. The Bryant couple quickly married in the courthouse, and Rudeseal planned to take a final at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock later Monday morning.
Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, who recently said he supported gay marriage but would defend the ban, has asked Piazza to suspend his ruling. McDaniel said Saturday that he wants the state Supreme Court to take up the matter, but no appeal had been filed as of Monday morning.
More than 100 people gathered outside the Pulaski County courthouse before doors opened Monday. Randy Eddy-McCain, pastor of Open Door Community Church, was on hand to help perform marriage ceremonies for those seeking licenses at the courthouse. Eddy-McCain, who is gay, married his partner in New York. He said he looked forward to presiding over same-sex ceremonies in Arkansas.
"I want to get everybody in that I can before they issue a stay," said Eddy-McCain, who along with his husband is a plaintiff in the lawsuit that led to Piazza's ruling.
When Piazza didn't issue a stay, Arkansas' 75 county clerks were left to decide for themselves whether to grant marriage licenses. That caused confusion among county clerks, Association of Arkansas Counties executive director Chris Villines said.
Several Arkansas counties have refused to issue same-sex marriage licenses, saying the Arkansas Supreme Court must weigh in.
"With all due respect to the Third Division Circuit Court of Pulaski County, a circuit court does not establish or strike down statewide law," Faulkner County Attorney David Hogue said in a statement Sunday. "That would be the role of the State Supreme Court."
The U.S. Supreme Court last year ruled that a law forbidding the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages was unconstitutional. Using language similar to that from the Supreme Court, state and federal judges nationwide have struck down other same-sex marriage bans and ordered states to recognize same-sex marriages from other states.