Arkansas Advocates Find Hope With Same-Sex Rulings (AP Analysis)

by Andrew DeMillo, The Associated Press  on Sunday, Jun. 30, 2013 9:30 am  

It's a battle where voters and the state's public officials are the biggest obstacles. The University of Arkansas' annual Arkansas Poll last year showed that only 16 percent of very likely voters believed gay couples should be allowed to legally marry and 20 percent supported civil unions. Fifty-seven percent said there should be no legal recognition of a gay couple's relationship.

They've also seen major defeats at the ballot box. Aside from the gay marriage ban — which was approved by 75 percent of voters in 2004 — a proposal to ban unmarried couples who live together from adopting or fostering children was approved in the 2008 election. That measure, aimed primarily at same-sex couples, was struck down by the Arkansas Supreme Court in 2011.

The mood among the state's top officials, especially Democrats, has been just as disheartening for advocates. Only two Democratic congressional candidates running in Arkansas last year said they agreed with President Barack Obama's support for gay marriage, and they both were running in districts that weren't viewed as competitive for the party. U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, a Democrat who is seeking re-election next year, reiterated his support for Arkansas' gay marriage ban moments after the court's rulings.

But advocates say they believe the court rulings and the support growing nationwide for gay marriage may help, especially as more Arkansans encounter same-sex couples in the community.

"I think (the rulings) may encourage other state legislators and citizens to take it on for a progressive way...We hope one day sooner than later it will just become a non-issue," said Eric McDaniel, president of the Stonewall Democratic Caucus of Arkansas.

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