Friday, June 26, 2015

TOP STORY >> Strong reaction to decision by Supreme Court

Leader staff writers

With the 5-4 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday morning, same-sex marriage became legal in all 50 U.S. states and territories.

By the thinnest of margins, but without equivocation, Justice Anthony Kennedy and the court’s four moderate or liberal justices made same-sex marriage the law of the land, leaving the four other justices and many Arkansans fuming.

It can only be changed by a constitutional amendment or action by a future Supreme Court, which many observers say is unlikely.

As soon as they heard the ruling was announced Friday morning, Earnie Matheson and his partner, Tony Chiaro, rushed to the Pulaski County courthouse, long-held wedding rings at the ready, where they got the first same-sex marriage license in the county and were married by Circuit Judge Chris Piazza.

It was Piazza who invalidated the state’s same-sex marriage ban in May 2014. After a short interval, he stayed his only ruling while the state Supreme Court considered the issue.

During that time, however, about 500 same-sex marriage licenses were issued in Arkansas, about 350 of those in Pulaski County.

Sherwood residents Sommer Green and Reagan Winkles were married at the courthouse late Friday afternoon. “We ran to Walmart for rings and came straight here,” Green said.

They were married by Pastor Randy Eddy-McCain, a gay minister who made himself available at the courthouse for on-the-spot, same-sex marriages throughout the day. Associate Pastor Sheryl Myers accompanied him. Their church, Open Door Community Church, is in Sherwood.

Eddy-McCain said he and his husband, Gary, married 23 years ago in New York City. They were among the plaintiffs in the same-sex lawsuit that has languished in the Arkansas Supreme Court.

“Although this decision does not reflect the will of Arkansas voters, we are a nation of laws, and the judicial system has an important role to play,” Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said Friday.

“I am disappointed that the justices have chosen to ignore the role of the states to define marriage. The justices have issued a decision, and that decision must be followed.

“Moving forward, it is critically important that the rights of religious freedom be protected, and I am committed to doing so,” Rutledge said.

She also told The Leader that those wishing to marry should be respectful by waiting patiently for clerks’ offices as they adjust to the change by modifying paperwork, like adding gender-neutral terms.

She also said the ruling does not mean ministers must officiate same-sex nuptials. Government officials must grant licenses because of the ruling, Rutledge agreed.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson said, “While my personal convictions will not change, I recognize the responsibility of the state to follow the direction of the U.S. Supreme Court. As a result of this ruling, I will direct all state agencies to comply with the decision.”

Rep. Rick Crawford was more outspoken in his displeasure on the decision in Obergefell v. Hodges.

“The opinion of five lawyers, not elected by the American people, should not and cannot define what millions of Americans affirm as the true and divine institution of marriage. Despite ruling two years previous that this decision rightly belonged to the elected officials in each state, the Supreme Court today removed the people’s right to uphold their own beliefs, which are based on deeply held religious and personal convictions, and instead chose to force their own definition of marriage onto the entire country.”

Pulaski County Clerk Larry Crane, who had been anticipating the ruling, had two marriage license forms — one with signature blanks labeled husband and wife, one labeled spouse 1 and spouse 2.

Crane issued licenses to 11 same-sex couples Friday. He called the decision joyous.

In Lonoke County, Clerk Dawn Porterfield could not be reached for comment despite several phone calls and messages and an email.

The former county clerk, Larry Clark, had said he didn’t have a problem issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

“Maybe it’s the law of the land,” said Jacksonville Bishop James Bolden of Evangelistic Ministries, “but it ain’t the law of the Bible.”

“I was very disappointed,” he said. “It’s the way the world is going.”

He said he had gay people and fornicators and adulterers in his congregation, but they don’t come to church to have their sins condoned.

“Like every Christian pastor, I preach the truth but don’t condone sin,” Bolden said.

Pastor Eddy-McCain disagreed. He said, “It was just an amazing, amazing moment… I want to thank God because heaven is on the side of justice and justice is ruling today.”

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, a Republican presidential candidate, called on conservative Christians to engage in a “massive Biblical disobedience campaign against “the false god of judicial supremacy.”

“The Supreme Court finally made a ruling,” said Pulaski County Judge Barry Hyde. “The Constitution is obvious. We move forward.”

State Reps. Tim Lemons (R-Cabot), Karilyn Brown (R-Sherwood) and Doug House (R-North Little Rock) were disappointed with the decision.

Lemons said, “I believe in traditional marriage of a man and a woman. I am disappointed, but not totally surprised. You could see this coming over the past several years.”

Brown explained, “I’m just disappointed that they’ve taken that away from the state and overruled what people actually want and what’s historically been marriage.”

Although she said she doesn’t have any animosity toward the Supreme Court justices, Brown called it an “activist court.”

She continued, “I just think it’s wrong not to respect traditional marriage principles. God instituted marriage…This decision is bad for the family, bad for our culture and our country.”
Brown hopes there will be opposition and the decision will be turned around one day.

State Rep. Joe Farrer (R-Austin) said he didn’t think it was right that nine people who were not elected could make a decision that goes against the majority of Americans, especially those in Arkansas. He added that the ruling would open up problems, such as polygamy, that the country wouldn’t be able to resolve.

State Rep. Camille Bennett (D-Lonoke) argued that the ruling would not cancel out all the case law that prohibits polygamy.

While she hadn’t read the ruling in its entirety yet, the former city attorney doesn’t think it affects churches or infringes upon religious freedom.

In fact, Arkansas may have additional protection of religious freedom because of state law passed in the last session, Bennett said.

There is a lot of misinformation, she noted.

The legislator believes the ruling means courthouses can’t discriminate in issuing marriage licenses and legal same-sex marriages performed in one state will be recognized in every state.

Sen. Jonathan Dismang (R-Searcy), the president pro tempore, said he was disappointed. “I believe marriage is between a man and woman. It doesn’t change my opinion.”

Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher said, “Marriage is an institution God created, and I think it’s foolish for man to try to recreate something that God’s created.”

Christi Hill Lawhon of Jacksonville posted the following on Facebook, “When I was a scared middle school kid who didn’t know any gay people and just didn’t want to be hated and isolated, I never ever would have guessed that I would be where I am now, with my wife, in this world and country and air that feels a little bit different forever!”

And Elizabeth Johnson of Cabot told The Leader, “We are so overwhelmed with joy today! We are so happy and look forward to enjoying the same rights and protections for our families!”

She and her partner, LaRisa, were married in Iowa in 2009 and have been together for 14 years.

Jennifer Seaton-Rambo, a Jacksonville High School graduate who wed her partner last year after the state’s ban was struck down, said on Facebook, “Love definitely won today! Our family will have protection, and I can securely say that now. Pure happiness is afloat!”