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Judge strikes all Arkansas bans on gay marriage



LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) -- A judge cleared the way on Thursday for gay marriages to resume in Arkansas, striking down all state laws that prevent same-sex couples from wedding.

A day after the state Supreme Court effectively halted gay marriages in the state, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza expanded his ruling striking down a constitutional ban to also include the prohibition on clerks issuing same-sex marriage licenses. Justices had ruled Wednesday that Piazza's decision on the gay marriage ban did not change that license law.

Piazza also rejected a request to suspend his ruling, saying there's no evidence the state would be harmed by allowing gay marriages to continue.

"The same cannot be said of the plaintiffs and other same-sex couples who have not been afforded the same measure of human dignity, respect and recognition by this state as their similarly situated, opposite sex counterparts," Piazza wrote. "A stay would operate to further damage Arkansas families and deprive them of equal access to the rights associated with marriage status in this state."

Attorney General Dustin McDaniel's office said he would appeal and was asking the high court to suspend Piazza's latest order. McDaniel, a Democrat, recently said he supports gay marriage but would continue defending the state's ban in court.

"This order clarifies what we understood Judge Piazza had attempted to do last week, and it does not change our posture of seeking a stay from the Arkansas Supreme Court and pursuing an appeal," McDaniel spokesman Aaron Sadler said.

Pulaski County, one of two counties that had been issuing licenses before the high court's decision, said it planned to resume issuing licenses to same-sex couples immediately. The other, Washington County, was not issuing licenses Thursday.

An attorney for the couples who had sued over the ban said he wasn't surprised by the ruling.

"I think his intent all along was to strike down any of these statutes that interfered with a same-sex couple obtaining a marriage license in the state," attorney Jack Wagoner said. "The fact he didn't call out the statute number of one of those statutes was an oversight."

Last Friday, Piazza threw out a 10-year-old ban that voters placed in the state constitution, as well as a separate state law barring same-sex marriages.

After Piazza's decision last Friday, clerks in five counties responded by issuing marriage licenses to gay couples. Through Wednesday evening, 456 gay couples in Arkansas had since received permission to marry, according to an Associated Press canvass of county clerks. By Wednesday, only Pulaski and Washington counties were issuing licenses.

Arkansas voters approved a gay marriage ban by a 3-to-1 margin in 2004.

Seventeen other states allow gay marriage. Judges have struck down bans in Idaho, Michigan, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Virginia.

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