By Christina Huynh
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Dozens of gay couples, some of whom waited in line overnight, received licenses to marry from county clerks Monday, while lawyers for the state of Arkansas asked its highest court to suspend an order gutting a constitutional amendment that bans same-sex marriage.
“When we heard the news in Arkansas, we had to jump in the car to get here,” 51-year-old Shelly Butler of Dallas said shortly before receiving the first license in Little Rock, the state’s largest city. Butler met her partner, 48-year-old Susan Barr, at Southern Arkansas University in 1985. They arrived at the courthouse at 6:30 a.m. and were allowed to go to the front of the line because Butler has muscular dystrophy and is in a wheelchair.
“I am just in shock, I think. You go from being so private and hidden to such a public display of commitment. It’s just so nice,” Barr said.
Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza tossed out Arkansas’ gay marriage ban after business hours Friday, setting up Monday’s run on courthouses in Little Rock and Fayetteville as same-sex marriage arrived in the Bible Belt. As he arrived at work Monday, Piazza walked up to a colleague performing same-sex weddings in the courthouse rotunda and shook his hand. Piazza declined to talk to reporters.
“I have already spoken my opinion,” Piazza said.
Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, who recently said he supported gay marriage but would defend the ban, filed paperwork Monday morning formally asking the state Supreme Court to temporarily set aside Piazza’s ruling that had made Arkansas – at least for now – the 18th state in the nation to allow same-sex marriages.
The U.S. Supreme Court last year ruled that a law forbidding the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages was unconstitutional. 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 Fayetteville, the home of the University of Arkansas, clerks issued 23 licenses to same-sex couples Monday morning and one to a heterosexual couple. The women who work in the office used White-Out to correct the documents’ formatting where necessary.
“On our licenses, it automatically prints ‘Mr.’ and I told the girls just to change that to ‘Ms.”’ Washington County Clerk Becky Lewallen said.
Fifteen same-sex couples received licenses in Eureka Springs on Saturday, but outside Carroll County, clerks in many of the state’s other 74 counties said they wanted further guidance from a higher court.
“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.”
Carroll County deputy clerks who had granted licenses to same-sex couples Saturday said Monday they had resumed granting licenses only to heterosexual couples and referred calls to Clerk Jamie Correia, who couldn’t immediately be reached.
Marion County, home to a large number of retirees, granted one license to a same-sex couple Monday, and Saline County, home to two conservative Little Rock suburbs, said it would if anyone asked. No one had by midday.
Pulaski County drew one protester.
“Marriage is between a male and female. … These are the words of the almighty God. Woe unto you, said the Lord,” Larry O. Walker shouted outside the courthouse.
Thomas Baldwin, 37, and Devin Rudeseal, 24, of Bryant, were the second pair to receive a same-sex marriage license in Little Rock. They married quickly because Rudeseal planned to take a final exam at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock later Monday morning.
Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen, whom Piazza met on his way into the courthouse, said he married three couples in the first hour after the clerk’s office opened.
“It’s the right thing to do. I am a minister. I am a judge. I am ordained to celebrate commitments in marriages and I have believed for a long time that my faith compels,” Griffen said. “This is the love of God joining with the love of people.”