A federal judge has struck down Arkansas’ ban on same-sex marriages, but she issued a stay in the ruling as it is expected to be appealed.
U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker said Amendment 83, a 2004 voter-approved measure defining marriage as between a man and a woman, was unconstitutional under the 14th amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
“The Court declares that Arkansas’s marriage laws — Amendment 83 of the Arkansas Constitution and Arkansas Code Annotated §§ 9-11-107, 9-11-109, and 9-11-208 — violate the Due Process Clause and Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution by precluding same-sex couples from exercising their fundamental right to marry in Arkansas, by not recognizing valid same-sex marriages from other states, and by discriminating on the basis of gender,” Baker wrote in her 45-page decision.
“This Court finds that the Arkansas marriage laws at issue here overstep this constitutional limit. The Due Process Clause prevents the government from infringing upon a fundamental right “unless the infringement is narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest.” Likewise, under the Equal Protection Clause, if a state makes a classification that “impinge[s] upon the exercise of a fundamental right,” then the state must “demonstrate that its classification has been precisely tailored to serve a compelling governmental interest,”” the ruling said.
Baker’s ruling is expected to be appealed, leading the judge to stay her decision.
The federal lawsuit was brought by two gay couples, Rita and Pam Jernigan and Becca and Tara Austin. The Arkansas Supreme Court is also reviewing a case regarding same-sex marriage, but has not issued a ruling yet. That review is of a May 8 ruling by Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza that Amendment 8s was unconstitutional.
Piazza’s ruling followed a January 2014 ruling by U.S. Federal Judge Terence Kern that struck down Oklahoma’s ban on gay marriage. Kern, based in Tulsa, said the gay marriage ban approved by Oklahoma voters in 2004 violated the U.S. Constitution's 14th Amendment under the equal protection clause.
Baker acknowledged that her decision would be controversial in undoing the 2004 law that passed with nearly 75% of the vote.
“This Court does not take lightly a request to declare that a state law is unconstitutional,” Baker said in her ruling. “Statutes are passed by the duly elected representatives of the people. It is not on a whim that the Court supplants the will of the voters or the decisions of the legislature. Even so, these interests do not address any specific reasons for the marriage laws at issue; instead, they represent the type of generalized, post hoc, and litigation-reactive justifications that strict scrutiny disallows.”
Jerry Cox, head of the Arkansas Family Council, did not like the ruling but was happy the ruling was suspended pending the appeal process. The AFC pushed the campaign that resulted in passage of Amendment 83.
"At least with this ruling, we know what we have and it's not unexpected in light of how other federal courts have ruled. It's our hope that eventually the will of the people of Arkansas will be upheld rather than the wishes of judges,” Cox said in this report from ABC News.
Chad Griffin, an Arkansas native and president of the national Human Rights Coalition, praised the ruling.
"More than five hundred committed and loving gay and lesbian couples have already married in the state of Arkansas, and two separate courts have now both declared that the state's ban on marriage equality is unconstitutional,” Griffin said in a statement. “There's no excuse for delaying justice even one more day. I am proud to be an Arkansan by birth, but I'll be even prouder when this shameful stain on the state Constitution is erased once and for all. Thanks to today's historic ruling and the courageous plaintiffs and attorneys who made it possible, that day is closer than ever before."
Coincidentally, U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves overturned on Tuesday a same-sex marriage ban in Mississippi. Attorneys for the state said they would pursue an appeal of Reeves’ injunction against the ruling. Mississippi voters approved in 2004 a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and woman.