opinion by Maylon Rice
Editor’s note: Maylon Rice is a former newspaper reporter, columnist and editor at several newspapers over the past 40 years. He ran, unsuccessfully for the Arkansas House of Representatives in 2012. A native of Warren, Rice lives in Fayetteville.
Opinions, commentary and other essays posted in this space are wholly the view of the author(s). They may not represent the opinion of the owners of The City Wire.
There will be much more to be written and spoken about in the days ahead of the courtroom performances of Dustin McDaniel, our state’s lame-duck Democrat elected, and two-term Attorney General.
His performance in lawsuits representing the state comes as part of the political landscape, with that job of serving as the state’s chief attorney.
Sometimes, as an elected individual sworn to uphold the requirements of the office you inhabit, one might have to on a personal level disagree with the state law as enacted by the majority, be it the Legislature or the public as voters. But, as Arkansas’ Attorney General, the individual (McDaniel in this case) has sworn to defend against all challenges the laws (or Constitutional amendments) as written and often voted onto the 1874 state Constitution. This is the case even if it appears an emotional and popular Constitutional Amendment passed in 2004 may violate the U.S. Constitution on a basis of individual rights and freedoms.
This past week, AG McDaniel spoke his mind, noting he was speaking as Dustin McDaniel, the individual, on the rights of same-sex couples, as he sees that issue.
"I want to tell you I do support marriage equality and I do believe Arkansans should have the right to be equal in the eyes of the law," said McDaniel, speaking at the Associated Press Managing Editors convention, according to Associated Press reports.
He also said he would defend the state in the lawsuit.
It was a brave move, being the first (and only) Arkansas Constitutional officer to venture out on this issue. But McDaniel made sure Arkansans understood his personal feelings have little to do with his state-sworn duty.
Days later, as the state’s Attorney General, McDaniel told Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza that he would appeal to the Arkansas Supreme Court Piazza’s decision that nullified Arkansas’ ban against allowing same-sex marriages. It is not hard to understand that AG McDaniel is indeed acting (first) as the Attorney General should even when (secondly) the issue personally doesn’t agree with him.
Many politicians of our current “do-over” generation want to discard the majority rule concept or even ultimately the rulings of the courts, and have it their way (as the minority). Tending not to get their issues resolved to their liking, many politicians today seek to adopt a “scorched earth policy” on their political foes, and often attempt to change the majority to their way of thinking or even worse, seek to again and again litigate previous Constitutional court rulings.
Already the proverbial “cat is out of the bag” on the issuance of same-sex marriage licenses and same-sex weddings in Arkansas after this past weekend. With Judge Piazza’s ruling overturning the state’s 2004 amendment voted in by a wide margin of Arkansas voters, those wanting a marriage license flocked to Eureka Springs and ultimately 15 such permits – at last count – were issued. The exact number of same-sex weddings performance was yet known.
Until a “stay” to Judge Piazza’s ruling is issued by a higher court, it will be up to each and every County Clerk whether to issue the license requests.
Back in 2004, when the amendment to the Arkansas Constitution was approved by a majority of voters (almost 75%), public sentiment and emotions seemed to run strong for this ban. Today, however, polls and public sentiment, especially on the overriding issue of personal freedoms, seems to have changed and changed dramatically.
The 2004 amendment to the Arkansas Constitution defines marriage as between a man and a woman. Seventeen states allow gay marriage, and federal judges have struck down bans similar to the Arkansas amendment in Oklahoma, Michigan, Texas, Utah and Virginia.
Looks like AG McDaniel might have his hands full in this case. We have no doubt he will vigorously defend the Arkansas Constitution on this ban. We just aren’t so sure that our 2004 approved amendment will stand the legal scrutiny of individual freedoms granted under the U.S. Constitution.