On Friday, May 9, 2014, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza effectively struck down Arkansas’ ban on same-sex marriage. Judge Piazza’s ruling declared both Amendment 83 to the state constitution, approved by voters in 2004, and Act 144 of 1997, Arkansas’s law banning same-sex marriage, unconstitutional. (Read the entire ruling here.) Attorneys Cheryl Maples and Jack Wagoner represented over 20 couples in the case, Wright v. Arkansas.

For a week, marriage equality in Arkansas was a reality. Carroll County issued the state’s first same-sex marriage license to Jennifer Rambo and Kristin Seaton on Saturday, May 10. Although not a defendant in the lawsuit, Carroll County Deputy Clerk Jane Osborn issued same-sex marriage licenses the day after the ruling (a Saturday, May 10). The first same-sex marriage license was issued to Jennifer Rambo and Kristin Seaton in Eureka Springs.

Over the following several days, almost 500 gay and lesbian couples in five Arkansas counties received marriage licenses. Numerous officiants, including lay people who obtained licenses just for this purpose, clergy members, judges, and Justices of the Peace stood by to perform free wedding ceremonies. Click HERE to see more photos from weddings at the Pulaski County Courthouse on May 12, 2014.

The celebration came to a halt late Friday, May 16, though, when a stay on Judge Piazza’s ruling was issued by the Arkansas Supreme Court, where it is currently on appeal.

While this is not an ACLU of Arkansas case, the ACLU has long fought for marriage equality, both on the local and national front. We fought to defeat both anti-gay marriage laws in Arkansas, and have challenged laws at the Legislature, Congress and in the courts around the country. Nationally, the ACLU has been on the forefront of legal recognition of LBGT relationships since the first same-sex marriage lawsuit was filed in 1971, and the ACLU led the successful fight against DOMA with plaintiff Edie Windsor.

Fighting for parenting rights in Arkansas
In 1996, the state passed a regulation that barred foster children from being placed in a home where an adult lesbian or gay man resided. In 2007, we won Howard v. Arkansas, and the ban was finally struck down in a unanimous, precedent-setting decision by the Arkansas Supreme Court. After years of success at the state Legislature fighting off anti-gay-parenting laws, in 2008 voters approved a ballot initiative known as Act 1, prohibiting gay people and cohabiting unmarried straight couples from adopting or fostering. We sued that year and won the challenge in Cole v. Arkansas with a final decision at the Arkansas Supreme Court in 2011.

Shane Frazier and Curtis Chatham, who were married on May 12, were two of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. See [Box] for more information on this couple. And in 2013 we assisted attorney Jack Wagoner in his challenge of “blanket bans” on cohabitation restrictions in child custody cases.(We had been working quietly on individual cases around the state.) The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled that such bans were not in the best interest of children. As a result of that decision, having a domestic partner to whom you are not married no longer automatically prevents a parent from having overnight visitation with their child. Arkansas courts and DHS now have clear instructions on the matter.

The ACLU will continue its work on the local and federal levels to make universal equality a reality for LGBT persons.




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Arkansas Supreme Court to Hear Voter ID Case October 2nd
Marriage Equality in Arkansas: A Timeline
Marriage Equality in Arkansas: One Family's Story
2014 Rights of Spring Honorees: Adjoa Aiyetoro is Civil Libertarian of the Year
Letter from the Executive Director: Ferguson is Everytown, U.S.A.
On the Docket: September 2014
In the Spotlight: Scott Raper and Jillian Fisher
In Memorium: Judge John Norman Harkey, Founding Member of the ACLU of Arkansas