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Lawsuit filed to overturn Ark. gay marriage ban

July 3, 2013

LITTLE ROCK — A group of 11 same-sex couples from Arkansas on Tuesday asked a judge to overturn the state's ban on gay marriage, the latest effort aimed at repealing the amendment after recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings supporting gay couples.

The lawsuit filed in Pulaski County Circuit Court seeks to strike down the constitutional amendment voters approved in 2004 that defines marriage as between a man and a woman. The amendment also bars the state from recognizing same-sex marriages from other states.

"Gays and lesbians are a distinct group, singled out due to their sexual orientation to be denied rights enjoyed by all other adult groups," the lawsuit states. "They are unequal in the eyes of the state of Arkansas and their families are denied the same respect as officially sanctioned families of opposite-sex individuals."

The lawsuit was filed less than a week after the U.S. Supreme Court issued two rulings supporting same-sex couples. Justices on June 26 cleared the way for gay marriages to resume in California and struck down a federal law denying benefits to married gay couples. Justices, however, did not rule on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage bans.

The day after the ruling, a group asked the Arkansas attorney general's office to approve the language of a proposed ballot measure that would repeal the 2004 amendment. If the language is certified by the AG's office, the group must gather at least 78,133 signatures from registered voters to get the measure on the ballot next year.

Four of the couples suing the state were legally married in Iowa. Several of the couples suing sought marriage licenses from their county clerks but were turned down, according to the suit.

A spokesman for Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said his office was still reviewing the lawsuit.

The head of the conservative group that campaigned for the amendment in 2004 said he wasn't sure how the couples could challenge the ban in state court since it's written in the Arkansas constitution. Jerry Cox, president of the Family Council, said he was confident the amendment could withstand any legal challenge.

"If the Arkansas marriage amendment was legally suspect, it would have been challenged a long time ago," Cox said. "This law has been on the books for almost 10 years, and it's as solid as any marriage law anywhere in the country."

Cheryl Maples, the attorney for the plaintiffs, said she believed state court was the best venue to challenge the amendment, which she said conflicted with the Arkansas constitution's guarantee of equal rights. She cited the state Supreme Court's ruling in 2002 striking down Arkansas' anti-sodomy law as unconstitutional.

In 2011, the state Supreme Court struck down an initiated act approved by voters that banned unmarried couples living together from adopting or fostering children. That ban was aimed primarily at gay couples.

"I think that enough change has taken place in the last 10 years that it's time for this to be heard," Maples said.

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