At the end of the day on Friday the country was astonished to see that Arkansas’s Constitutional Amendment banning same-sex marriage had been struck down by Circuit Judge Piazza. The ruling was one many viewed as inevitable, but still years away for the Natural State. Recently, a string of court cases have attempted legalize same-sex marriage in states all over the country, but the hardest challenges have been in the South. Only three of the eleven original Confederate states have witnessed their ban on same-sex marriage be repealed. But this is where Arkansas’s ruling is even more intriguing; marriages were performed the very next day.
In his ruling, Judge Piazza did not issue a stay on his ruling. Saturday morning, a handful of marriages were certified up in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. While many counties witnessed opposition to handing out certificates, Eureka Springs chose to hand out as many as possible for one day. The amount of marriages were minimal at best, but they did become the first official same-sex marriages to be performed in the South. While Texas and Virginia both have had their bans on same-sex marriages struck down, both states are appealing the decisions. It is worth noting that Virginia’s Attorney General, Mark Herring, is arguing for the repeal of his state’s ban. Comments by Arkansas’s Attorney General, Dustin McDaniel, suggest that the ruling in Arkansas will be appealed as well. Earlier in the week, McDaniel had voiced his belief that same-sex marriage should be legal, but that he would do his duty to protect the state’s Constitutional in court.
Just a decade ago, the ban passed with the support of almost three out of four Arkansans by a ballot initiative. Yet, Judge Piazza ruled that the amendment was unconstitutional. It is a step towards marriage equality and identifies a perfect example of why the court system is necessary. The courts serve the purpose to ensure that laws do not infringe upon the rights of citizens. The rights of Arkansans were being infringed upon by upholding the ban, and the repeal of the ban is a step towards a more equal America. The issue that some have with this ruling is that is directly contradicts the will of the voters. To be clear, a voter initiative can still be unconstitutional, even if the initiative overwhelmingly passes. It can be unconstitutional the same way a law passed by Congress can still be unconstitutional.
The will of the majority should not be allowed to stand if in the process it removes the rights of individuals. Not everyone who voted against the ban was gay or lesbian, but they were individuals who believed that marriage equality is the appropriate measure in society. This is the conclusion that many of the justices came to when they ruled the same-sex marriage bans unconstitutional. While there is a religious component to marriage, there is also a legal component that is recognize in the United States. The way to officially have a recognized marriage is to obtain the marriage license from the state, otherwise the benefits will not kick in. In terms of the legal benefits of marriage, religion plays no part.
That is why it is not wrong for Judge Piazza to have struck down the ruling. The ruling does not require religious institutions to recognize same-sex marriages. But it does require the state to recognize them, along with providing all of the benefits associated with them. This ruling does not infringe upon the rights of Christians, but also gives equal rights to Same-Sex couples that wish to be married and received all of the legal benefits that are associated with marriage. We live in a country of different beliefs, but the written law does not discriminate by beliefs. Everyone has the right now (briefly) to get married in Arkansas, regardless of sexual orientation. Everyone still retains the right to choose who they marry too, since that hasn’t changed. The expansion of marital rights in Arkansas protects citizens from being legally discriminated against. I am sure the repeal will be appealed by the state, but hopefully the appellate process will be quick, ending with a ruling in favor of marriage equality. Arkansas now leads the South on marriage equality, and hopefully will remain a shining example for other Southern states to follow in the coming months.