LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - A judge on Friday struck down Arkansas' ban on same-sex marriage, saying the state has "no rational reason" for preventing gay couples from marrying.
Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza ruled that the 2004 voter-approved amendment to the state constitution violates the rights of same-sex couples.
"This is an unconstitutional attempt to narrow the definition of equality," Piazza wrote. "The exclusion of a minority for no rational reason is a dangerous precedent."
The ruling came nearly a week after state Attorney General Dustin McDaniel announced that he personally supports gay-marriage rights but that he will continue to defend the constitutional ban in court. McDaniel's office said he would appeal the ruling.
"We respect the court's decision, but, in keeping with the attorney general's obligation to defend the state constitution, we will appeal," spokesman Aaron Sadler said. "We will request that Judge Piazza issue a stay of his ruling so as not to create confusion or uncertainty about the law while the Supreme Court considers the matter."
Piazza issued his ruling late Friday, about half an hour after the marriage license office in Pulaski County closed. An attorney for the group of same-sex couples challenging the prohibition said he hadn't talked with his clients and didn't know if they would seek a marriage license when county offices open Monday.
"If I was them, I would be there waiting for the door to open," attorney Jack Wagoner said.
The amendment was passed with the overwhelming support of Arkansas voters. Piazza's ruling also overturns a 1997 state law banning gay marriage.
In his ruling, Piazza cited the U.S. Supreme Court's 1967 decision that invalidated laws on interracial marriage.
"It has been over 40 years since Mildred Loving was given the right to marry the person of her choice," Piazza wrote, referring to that ruling. "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."
The U.S. Supreme Court last year ruled that a law forbidding the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages was unconstitutional. Since then, lower-court judges have repeatedly cited the decision when striking down some of the same-sex marriage bans that were enacted after Massachusetts started recognizing gay marriages in 2004.