By Terrah Baker
Special To TFW
Last Friday, something changed Arkansas history, allowing thousands of Arkansans’ dreams to come true.
Judge Chris Piazza of the Pulaski County Circuit Court ruled that the constitutional amendment approved in 2004 by the voters of the state that bans the marriage of gay couples violates their constitutional rights.
The next day in Fayetteville, Michelle Miesse and her partner of four years, Leah Gould, came to the courthouse steps to join the other hopeful couples waiting to receive their marriage license. Miesse said the occasion was surreal, like she was “walking around in a fantasy world.”
“Couples were kissing each other and everyone was holding hands, there were no haters and that was really great. It made me cry and feel so happy inside that there were lots of people there who were supporters of the cause,” she said. “We couldn’t have done it without all of the people who came before us to fight for any kind of human right whether it be racial inequality or gender inequality or sexual inequality. The only reason we can do this now is because people before were far braver than I will ever be.”
Mike Emery and his partner Todd Walters had the same surreal experience at the Carroll County Courthouse. They have been together for seven years and were officially engaged this past holiday season. While they had a marriage license waiting for them in Des Moines, Iowa, when Friday’s ruling came, they said they had to get one in their home state.
“It’s awesome,” Emery said. “Why would you have to travel anywhere to do what anyone else can do? We couldn’t be happier to be able to drive an hour instead of 12 hours.”
Social media and news came through all day on Saturday with the frenzy continuing. One Facebook post discussed a couple from Oklahoma who had waited to get married for 46 years and share the same benefits and securities as other married couples.
In the historical ruling, Judge Piazza was quoted as saying “Our freedoms are often acquired slowly, but our country has evolved as a beacon of liberty in what is sometimes a dark world. These freedoms include a right to privacy.…It is time to let the beacon of freedom shine brighter on all our brothers and sisters. We will be stronger for it.”
By as early as 4 a.m. on Saturday morning, couples from across the state and beyond arrived at Arkansas courthouses to get legally married. By 7:30 a.m., the doors were open. Outside, couples were being interviewed by media, and onlookers said the atmosphere was full of excitement and nervousness.
For many, the excitement and relief came from finally being able to be recognized as a couple just like any other, to gain the financial benefits and security that comes with legal marriage to your life partner, and that civil rights had been restored, if only for a short time.
As of Tuesday afternoon, a “stay” had not been issued. A stay would mean that couples would have to wait until the case is appealed in the Arkansas Supreme Court and a final ruling is issued before receiving their licenses.
Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel filed an appeal with the Arkansas Supreme Court on Monday, which includes a request that Judge Piazza issues a stay of his ruling “so as not to create confusion or uncertainty about the law,” spokesman Aaron Sadler said. McDaniel said that while he supports marriage equality, it is the duty of his office to uphold the Arkansas constitution.
“I want to tell you I do support marriage equality and I do believe Arkansans should have the right to be equal in the eyes of the law…,” McDaniel was quoted saying to Politico.
Plaintiffs in the original lawsuit have filed a motion asking the Arkansas Supreme Court to deny Monday’s request for a stay, citing cases throughout the U.S. just like this one, where state supreme courts have ruled in favor of marriage equality.
As of Sunday, only two days after the initial ruling by Piazza, it was reported that Washington County had issued 83 licenses, Saline County had issued seven, Pulaski County issued 161, Marion County issued one and Carroll County had issued 27. To those almost 200 couples, this now means they can move forward with their lives together, with the same protections given to all heterosexual married couples in Arkansas and throughout the country.
As of Tuesday afternoon, however, only two of the five counties that had issued licenses were continuing to do so. A conference call organized by the Association of Arkansas Counties on Saturday was a large part of the decision. AAC Director Scott Perkins said it was not a policy position but a way to encourage “a stay to allow county clerks to handle this properly.”
The future for the couples wed and those still waiting is yet to be determined, but the way the rest of the country is moving, many are expecting the Arkansas Supreme Court will finally settle the fight for marriage equality in the state — and love will win.