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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, November 28 - Volume 42 Issue 48
Arkansas and Mississippi marriage bans fall
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Arkansas and Mississippi marriage bans fall

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Federal judges struck down same-sex marriage bans in both Arkansas and Mississippi on November 25. The back-to-back decisions came only days after the U.S. Supreme Court lifted a stay on a similar decision in South Carolina, where Gay and Lesbian marriages have already begun.

In Arkansas, U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker ruled in favor of two same-sex couples who had challenged a 2004 constitutional amendment and an earlier state law barring same-sex marriage.

Baker wrote in her ruling that Arkansas marriage laws violate the U.S. 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 also made it clear that marriage is a fundamental right for everyone, protected by the Constitution. 'As to the right to marry,' she wrote, 'the Supreme Court has been clear: 'the 'liberty' specially protected by the Due Process Clause includes the right to marry . . . .' and 'Marriage is one of the 'basic civil rights of man,' fundamental to our very existence and survival.'

The judge stayed her ruling to allow the state time to appeal, and the Arkansas Attorney General is expected to appeal it to the Eight Circuit Court, based in St. Louis. Attorney General Dustin McDaniel's office had argued that same-sex marriage is not a fundamental right guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

Baker's ruling comes as the Arkansas State Supreme Court considers a separate case challenging the ban. In May, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza ruled that state marriage laws violate both the U.S. and Arkansas constitutions. His decision led to 541 same-sex marriages in the week before the state Supreme Court suspended his ruling.

State justices have not indicated when they will rule in that case.

In Mississippi, U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves also ruled that bans on same-sex marriage violate the U.S. Constitution. His decision came in Campaign for Southern Equality v. Bryant, in which two same-sex couples and the LGBT rights group sued for the right to marry.

'The court concludes that Mississippi's same-sex marriage ban deprives same-sex couples and their children of equal dignity under the law,' Reeves wrote in his ruling. 'Gay and lesbian citizens cannot be subjected to such second-class citizenship.'

Reeves said his decision hinged on whether same-sex couples were capable of loving one another, being in committed relationships, and being good parents. He then asked whether denying Gays and Lesbians the right to marry subjected them to humiliation and 'state-sanctioned prejudice.'

'Answering 'Yes' to each of these questions leads the court to the inescapable conclusion that same-sex couples should be allowed to share in the benefits, and burdens, for better or for worse, of marriage,' he wrote.

Reeves put a 14-day stay on the verdict. A spokesperson for Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant said he expected the state to appeal Reeves' ruling to the Fifth Circuit Court.

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