Legal, Political Gains for Gay Marriage (Andrew DeMillo Analysis)

by Andrew DeMillo, The Associated Press  on Sunday, May. 11, 2014 3:30 pm  

LITTLE ROCK — Nearly a decade after Arkansas voters overwhelmingly approved a same-sex marriage ban, gay rights supporters are enjoying a rare combination of legal and political gains in their fight to have the prohibition struck down.

A judge's ruling on Friday that that the 2004 marriage amendment was unconstitutional, plus Attorney General Dustin McDaniel's declaration that he supports marriage equality, hardly signal a final victory for gay marriage supporters. Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza's decision opens the door for a months-long fight before the state Supreme Court, and few statewide elected officials appear ready to follow McDaniel's lead.

But the moves are viewed as progress for a movement that so far has enjoyed few victories in the courthouse or the ballot box.

Poll: Do you agree with Chris Piazza's ruling? Let us know here.

Piazza didn't immediately stay his ruling, and the state's first marriage licenses to same-sex couples were issued the morning after the decision. Saying the marriage ban violated the state and U.S. constitutions, he invoked a 1967 U.S. Supreme Court decision in a Virginia case that invalidated laws against interracial marriage.

"It has been over 40 years since Mildred Loving was given the right to marry the person of her choice. The hatred and fears have long since vanished and she and her husband lived full lives together; so it will be for the same-sex couples," Piazza wrote, referring to the 1967 case. "It is time to let that beacon of freedom shine brighter on all our brothers and sisters. We will be stronger for it."

Piazza's ruling is a breakthrough for gay rights supporters who have had limited victories in Arkansas. Piazza played a major role in one of those wins, striking down an initiated act voters approved in 2008 barring unmarried couples from serving as foster or adoptive parents for children. The Supreme Court ultimately upheld Piazza's ruling against the act, which was aimed primarily at same-sex couples.

The gay marriage ruling came almost a week after McDaniel announced that he now supports marriage equality but would continue defending the marriage amendment in court. McDaniel, a Democrat serving his final year in office, became the first statewide elected official in Arkansas to support gay marriage.

"I sincerely doubt I'll be the last," McDaniel said during his May 3 speech at the Arkansas Associated Press Managing Editors convention.

It would be easy to dismiss McDaniel's conversion as politically convenient for someone not on the ballot this year. Once seen as a shoo-in for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, McDaniel dropped out last year after admitting to an inappropriate relationship with a Hot Springs attorney.

His announcement also didn't prompt an outpouring from other statewide elected officials in Arkansas following his lead. The state's top Democrats, including Gov. Mike Beebe and U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, say they still believe marriage is between a man and a woman. Most polling has shown heavy opposition to same-sex marriage in the state.

Supporters of the ban said Piazza undermined voters.



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