LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP/HRC) - An Arkansas judge has struck down the state's constitutional ban on gay marriage.
Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza ruled Friday that the 2004 amendment violates the rights of same-sex couples by defining marriage as allowable only between a man and a woman.
The ruling comes nearly a week after state Attorney General Dustin McDaniel announced he personally supports gay marriage rights but that he will continue to defend the constitutional ban in court.
McDaniel's office is expected to quickly appeal Piazza's ruling to the Arkansas Supreme Court; the 2004 amendment was passed with the overwhelming support of Arkansas voters.
Following Judge Piazza's ruling, Human Rights Campaign president and Arkansas native Chad Griffin issued the following statement:
"I want to congratulate the plaintiffs in this case, as well as lead attorney Cheryl Maples and co-counsel Jack Wagoner, on this historic victory for Arkansas values. All across my home state, throughout the South, and around the country, LGBT people and their families are seeking basic respect and dignity. This victory is an essential step on the journey toward full equality for all."
In the ruling, Judge Piazza wrote, "It has been over forty years since Mildred Loving was given the right to marry the person of her choice. The hatred and fears have long since vanished and she and her husband lived full lives together; so it will be for the same-sex couples. It is time to let that beacon of freedom shine brighter on all our brothers and sisters. We will be stronger for it."
Wright is one of over 70 marriage equality cases working their way through the judicial system across the country. These cases have been filed in 29 states plus Puerto Rico and account for hundreds of plaintiffs taking on state marriage bans. Same-sex couples can legally marry in seventeen states and the District of Columbia, while 33 states have a law or constitutional amendment restricting marriage to the union of one man and one woman.
The case challenges a statute passed in 1997 and a constitutional amendment to the Arkansas Constitution, approved by voters in 2004. Both exclude same-sex couples from marriage and forbid the state from recognizing same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions.
Another case out of Arkansas, Jernigan v. Crane, was filed in federal court in July of 2013 and is also being argued by one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs in Wright, Jack Wagoner.
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