Arkansas Legislative body reaffirms support of state’s gay marriage ban

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 214 views 

The Arkansas Legislative Council passed on a voice vote an interim resolution by Faulkner County Republican Sen. Jason Rapert that affirms the council's support of Act 83, a constitutional amendment passed by Arkansas voters in 2004 that banned same-sex marriage in the state.

The resolution comes more than a month after Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza struck down the ban on same-sex marriage, which temporarily opened the door for same-sex couples to marry in the state before a stay was eventually issued in the case.

The resolution passed Friday (June 20) asked the Arkansas Legislative Council to "explore legislative remedies to prevent the Arkansas Constitution and the will of the people of this state from being negated by judicial activism which violates the separation of powers ensured in our form of government."

So far, it is unknown what that legislation could be, though there has been talk by some in the House of impeaching Piazza.

Sen. Jon Woods, R-Springdale, said he voted in favor of the resolution and said Friday's move by the legislative council — which he described as running the day-to-day of the state between legislative sessions — would not likely result in specific actions against Piazza other than the legislative council's endorsement of Act 83.

"No, I think that's it," he said.

The resolution notes that "marriage between one man and one woman is the building block upon which our society is based," and that the "power to regulate marriage is a power reserved to the people that lies within the domain of state legislatures and not with the courts."

As reported by the Arkansas Times, the resolution easily passed the body, though he said "eight people were on hand to object to the resolution, including a Little Rock teacher who lost her job at Mount St. Mary Academy after marrying her partner. Rep. John Walker, a giant in the civil rights struggle for African-Americans, rose in opposition to Rapert's resolution."

Another to rise in opposition of the resolution was Democratic Sen. David Johnson of Little Rock, according to the Arkansas Times report.

"Johnson noted that Judge Chris Piazza, blistered in the Rapert opinion, had issued a decision in keeping with that by numbers of judges across the country. All have found equal protection and due process violations in state discrimination against gay couples."

Former Arkansas House Minority Leader Greg Leding, D-Fayetteville, made his feelings on the vote clear in a post to his Twitter account.

"That Legislative Council must waste breath on an embarrassing (if legally impotent) resolution this morning is a shame," he wrote.

Sen. Uvalde Lindsey, also a Fayetteville Democrat, attended the Council meeting but missed the vote. However, he was one of eight on the council to vote no on a suspension of the rules that allowed Rapert’s resolution to be heard. Lindsey told The City Wire he believes people seeking same-sex marriage are protected by the U.S. Constitution.

“I may not agree with all the gay marriage stuff, but that doesn’t matter when it comes to the Constitution,” Lindsey said. “People have a right to do certain things under the Constitution, and that’s what Judge Piazza was saying (in his ruling).”

Lindsey also said he does not believe it is a proper role of the Arkansas Legislature to “castigate the judicial branch.”

Rep. Terry Rice, R-Waldron, told The City Wire that he spoke in favor of Rapert’s resolution because he believes in “traditional marriage and that marriage is between one man and one woman.”

Rice, who recently defeated Sen. Bruce Holland, R-Greenwood, in the Senate District 9 GOP primary and does not have a November opponent in that race, also said Judge Piazza “created a crisis that wasn’t necessary, when he didn’t rule completely.” 

“I just felt like he was irresponsible the way he did that. … He did it on a Friday evening as an activist judge,” Rice said, adding, “I try to be respectful of everyone’s rights and view points,” but believes the Legislature has the right to question the actions of the judicial branch.

As to if the issue of same-sex marriage will eventually be settled by the U.S. Supreme Court, Rice said he isn’t sure of the outcome, but hopes “traditional marriages” are upheld.

"We’ve got a divided nation, and I think that one fundamental thing we have, and the stability we have, is the family and that’s one man and one woman. … And when that goes it opens us up to things that I don’t think we’ve thought about,” Rice said.

For his part, Woods said he supported the resolution because he was standing up for the rights of his constituents, who he said voted overwhelmingly for the gay marriage ban back in 2004.

"It stirred up emotions and I got a lot of phone calls over the weekend (of the ruling) and into the following week (asking), 'What are you going to do about it?' A lot of people were upset and a lot of people who voted for the amendment in '04 felt disenfranchised.”

Woods also voiced sentiments similar to Rice, saying that the timing of Piazza's ruling was nothing more than political games, especially by issuing the ruling near the close of business on a Friday afternoon, and this Friday's vote by the legislative council was just a way to show Piazza that it can go both ways.

"The reason I would say I supported Jason Rapert's resolution is because if the judge wants to play games at the last minute going into the weekend, then I hope he enjoys the resolution we just passed," Woods said. "If he wants to play games at the last minute going into the weekend, then Jason (Rapert) wants to have his resolution and be heard and people in my district want to be heard. So OK, then. That's why I supported the resolution."

The Human Rights Campaign, which has lobbied to overturn Amendment 83, also noted the “gamesmanship” in the timing of the resolution passed by the Council.

"The Arkansas Legislative Council can't intimidate the judiciary into ignoring the fact  that gay and lesbian couples have a constitutional right to marry,” Human Rights Campaign President and Arkansas native Chad Griffin said in a statement. “This is a matter of basic fairness and shouldn't be subject to political gamesmanship.”