An Arkansas clerk issued the state's first gay marriage license on Saturday, marking the first such occasion in a Dixie state.
In February, a federal judge ruled that Virginia must issue same-sex marriage licenses, but the state is still appealing her decision. That same week, Kentucky's ban on recognizing same-sex marriages performed out of state was struck down. Kentucky, however, is not obligated to issue licenses to same-sex couples.
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Carroll County Deputy Clerk Jane Osborn issued a license Saturday morning to Kristin Seaton, 27, and Jennifer Rambo, 26, of Fort Smith. They had slept in a Ford Focus after arriving in Eureka Springs at 2 a.m. Saturday and were the first of about 10 couples to line up outside of the courthouse before it opened.
When the license was issued, Rambo said, "Thank God." Seaton and Rambo, who have been together four years, then held a marriage ceremony on the courthouse steps. A woman in a rainbow dress officiated.
Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza ruled Friday that Arkansas' 2004 voter-approved amendment to the state constitution violates the rights of gay couples. He didn't put his ruling on hold as some judges in other states have done. Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said he would appeal the ruling and asked it be suspended during that process. No appeal had been filed as of Saturday morning when the license was issued.
Arkansas' amendment was passed in 2004 with the overwhelming support of Arkansas voters. Piazza's ruling also overturned a 1997 state law banning gay marriage. In striking down the ban, Piazza wrote that it is "an unconstitutional attempt to narrow the definition of equality."
"The exclusion of a minority for no rational reason is a dangerous precedent," he said in his ruling.
The U.S. Supreme Court last year ruled that a law forbidding the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages was unconstitutional. Since then, lower-court judges have repeatedly cited the decision when striking down some of the same-sex marriage bans that were enacted after Massachusetts started recognizing gay marriages in 2004.
Federal judges have ruled against marriage bans in Michigan, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Texas, and ordered Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee to recognize same-sex marriages from other states.
In all, according to gay-rights groups, more than 70 lawsuits seeking marriage equality are pending in about 30 states. Democratic attorneys general in several states -- including Virginia, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Oregon and Kentucky -- have declined to defend same-sex marriage bans.
Arkansas' ruling came a week after McDaniel became the first statewide elected official to announce he personally supports gay marriage rights. But he said he would continue to defend the constitutional ban in court.
Aaron Sadler, McDaniel's spokesman, said Friday the attorney general sought the stay because "we know that questions about validity of certain actions will arise absent a stay."