EUREKA SPRINGS, Ark. - Gay marriage arrived in the Bible Belt on Saturday, beginning with two women who had traveled overnight to ensure they would be first in line.
"Thank God," Jennifer Rambo said after Carroll County deputy clerk Jane Osborn issued a marriage license to her and Kristin Seaton, a former volleyball player at the University of Arkansas. The Fort Smith couple wed moments later on a sidewalk near the courthouse; the officiant wore a rainbow-colored dress.
In total, 15 licenses were issued for same-sex couples in northwest Arkansas' Carroll County, Osborn said.
Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Chris Piazza paved the way Friday with a ruling that removed a 10-year-old barrier, saying a constitutional amendment overwhelmingly passed by voters in 2004 banning gay marriage was "an unconstitutional attempt to narrow the definition of equality." Piazza's ruling also overturned a 1997 state law banning gay marriage.
But because Piazza didn't issue a stay, Arkansas' 75 county clerks were left to decide for themselves whether to grant marriage licenses.
Rambo, 26, and Seaton, 27, were the first gay couple to be legally married. They arrived about 2 a.m., slept in a Ford Focus, and awoke every half-hour to make sure no one else would take a spot at the head of the line.
As dawn came, no one was certain any clerk would issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple.
Initially, deputy clerk Lana Gordon said she wasn't sure she had the authority and shooed people from her office.
"We just walked out of here crying," Rambo said.
When Osborn intervened, other same-sex couples let Rambo and Seaton return to their place in line. "And some of these people here have been waiting 50 years and they still instructed us to come up front," Rambo said.
It wasn't immediately known whether other counties issued licenses Saturday. Several were open for early primary-election voting, but staffers said they were not prepared to issue marriage licenses.
Piazza's lack of a stay caused confusion among county clerks, Association of Arkansas Counties executive director Chris Villines said.
"The court didn't give us any time to get the kinks worked out," Villines said.
State Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said he would appeal the ruling and asked that it be suspended during that process. No appeal had been filed as of Saturday afternoon.
The U.S. Supreme Court last year ruled that a law forbidding the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages was unconstitutional. Using language similar to that of the Supreme Court, state and federal judges nationwide have struck down other same-sex marriage bans, ruling against bans in Michigan, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia, and Texas and ordering Kentucky, Ohio, and Tennessee to recognize same-sex marriages from other states.