Arkansas has become the first state in the southern region of the U.S. to make same-sex marriage available to its citizens. For the longest time, the bible belt remained one of the staunchest areas in opposition of same-sex marriage, as a result of a landslide ruling that has been on the books since 2004. The decision to overturn the law comes after southern lawyers worked tirelessly to strike down the states constitutional amendment on the controversial issue that has been slowly changing the landscape of marriages across the nation.
As the ruling came down on Friday, May 9, a number of southern gay and lesbian couples flocked to Arkansas to register for marriage licenses, some traveling for miles. The ban on same-sex marriage was lifted by Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza who claimed the law was unconstitutional and based not on rationale but discrimination reminiscent of the attitudes in the south regarding interracial marriage generations ago. With no stay in place by the courts, Gay marriages were being officiated as early as the following day.
According to reports, among those first to say “I do” in the bible belt were Jennifer Rambo and Kristin Seaton a same-sex couple who came to Carroll County, slept in their car, and managed to be the first in line to be wed. With same-sex marriage now in Arkansas comes the arrival of more southern couples exercising their right to tie the knot. In all, 15 marriage licenses were issued in Carroll County on the first day. The lift on the state’s same-sex marriage ban does not mean the fight for marriage equality in Arkansas is over. Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel says he plans on filing an appeal on the ruling, taking the matter to the Arkansas Supreme Court while Jerry Cox, leader of the Arkansas Family Council voicing his disappointment in the ruling saying the decision opens the gates for redefining marriage that could lead to other forms of alternative unions guised as marriage.
So far, as many as 17 states including the District of Columbia now perform and recognize same-sex marriage. The issue of marriage equality started to take root once the Republican driven Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) got implemented across the country, barring committed same-sex couples from marrying and benefiting in the legal rights of survivorship, taxes, adoption, immigration, and other rights and benefits granted heterosexual spouses. It was not until the Obama administration that DOMA would ultimately get struck down as recently as June 29, 2013, opening the floodgates of lawsuits across the country of couple filing cases against their home states for the right to be married.
When the ultra-conservative state of Utah joined the list of states to marry same-sex couples, many in the fight for marriage equality believed that progress was certainly being made. Those on the front-lines of the fight believed that the southern states, considered the last frontier to evolve in America’s changing landscape of social and political norms comes to be the most challenging. According to the gay advocacy organization, The Human Rights Campaign, approximately $8.5 million is coming from the organization for the work of advocating for same-sex marriage in the bible belt.
By Hal Banfield