2014 Top Stories No. 3: Same-sex marriage licenses issued briefly

Friday, January 2, 2015

Carroll County garnered national attention in May when same-sex marriage licenses were issued to nearly 30 couples after a Pulaski County judge's ruling struck down the state's ban on gay marriage.

However, the county stopped issuing same-sex marriage licenses after its attorney advised that doing so violated a state law not addressed by the Pulaski County ruling.

The licenses were issued after Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza made his ruling late in the day on Friday, May 9.

Because the Carroll County Clerk's Office in Eureka Springs is open on Saturdays to accommodate wedding-related tourism business, Eureka became the first city in the South to grant marriage licenses to gay couples on May 10.

The courthouse was packed with same-sex couples who arrived from near and far to obtain marriage licenses.

Attorney Cheryl Maples, a leader in the fight to have the state's ban on same-sex marriage declared unconstitutional, was on hand. Maples said police were called, and after a brief conference with the four officers, Deputy Clerk Lana Gordon announced that she was closing the office and issuing no marriage licenses.

"They shut the door and asked us to leave," Maples said. "They indicated they would arrest anybody who didn't."

Thirty minutes later, Maples said, Gordon was replaced by Deputy Clerk Jane Osborn, who opened the office and started issuing licenses.

Two Fort Smith women, Jennifer Rambo and Kristin Seaton, became the first same-sex couple to received a marriage license in Arkansas.

The Associated Press, National Public Radio and regional and national media arrived to cover the story.

Same-sex marriage licenses continued to be issued on the morning of Monday, May 12, until the county's attorney of record, Mike Rainwater of Little Rock , advised Prosecuting Attorney Tony Rogers that while Piazza's ruling did in fact overturn two state laws that banned gay marriage, it did not address a third law on the subject.

In all, 28 licenses were issued to same-sex couples in Carroll County: 15 in Eureka Springs on May 10, one in Berryville on May 12 and 12 in Eureka Springs on May 12.

Other Arkansas counties continued to issue same-sex marriage licenses until the afternoon of May 16, when the state Supreme Court issued a stay of Piazza's order.

In November, U.S. District Judge Kristin Baker also ruled against the state's gay marriage ban in a separate case, but stayed her ruling immediately to allow time for an appeal.

Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, who was succeed Thursday by Leslie Rutledge, had appealed Piazza's ruling to the state Supreme Court. McDaniel said Dec. 23 that the state would appeal Baker's ruling to the 8th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

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