Arkansas Becomes First Bible Belt State to Allow Same-Sex Marriage After Judge Lifts Ban

More than a dozen same-sex marriage licenses were issued for the first time in a Bible Belt state Saturday after a state judge declared Arkansas' voter-approved ban on gay wedding to be unconstitutional.

About 50 couples had lined up at the courthouse in Eureka Springs in Carroll County, Arkansas, Saturday morning seeking licenses, according to Reuters.

But Carroll County Deputy Clerk Jane Osborn told The Associated Press that 15 licenses were issued Saturday.

On Friday, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza struck down the state's ban on same-sex marriage, saying it violated equal protection provisions of the U.S. Constitution.

"This is an unconstitutional attempt to narrow the definition of equality," Piazza wrote in his decision. "The exclusion of a minority for no rational reason is a dangerous precedent."

The judge refused to put his ruling on hold, allowing same-sex couples to obtain marriage licenses.

But it caused confusion among county clerks, according to Association of Arkansas Counties executive director Chris Villines. "The court didn't give us any time to get the kinks worked out," Villines was quoted as saying.

Carroll County was perhaps the only county that issued marriage licenses Saturday.

Piazza's ruling also overturned a 1997 state law banning same-sex marriage.

"Our freedoms are often acquired slowly, but our country has evolved as a beacon of liberty in what is sometimes a dark world. These freedoms include a right to privacy," Piazza wrote. "It is time to let that beacon of freedom shine brighter on all our brothers and sisters. We will be stronger for it."

Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel's office has said it will appeal the decision and also seek to prevent a rush to courthouses for marriage licenses. "We respect the Court's decision, but, in keeping with the Attorney General's obligation to defend the state constitution, we will appeal," spokesman Aaron Sadler said.

Jerry Cox, president of the Arkansas Family Council, said the court's decision to not stay his ruling will create confusion. "Are these people married? Are they unmarried?" Cox was quoted as saying. "Judge Piazza did a tremendous disservice to the people of Arkansas by leaving this in limbo."

Federal judges in several states have struck down state amendments and laws banning gay marriage as unconstitutional ever since the U.S. Supreme Court last June squashed a key part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA. They have revoked bans also in Michigan, Utah, Texas, Oklahoma and Virginia, and ordered Kentucky and Tennessee to recognize out-of-state gay marriages. However, stays have been issued pending appeals.

Same-sex marriage is currently recognized in 17 states – California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington – and the District of Columbia.

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