Favorite

Promises kept 

When the mossbacks gathered in 1874 to write a new Arkansas constitution, they put at the top, right after a description of the state boundaries, that government's first job was to protect the rights of everyone equally to enjoy life and freedom and to "pursue their own happiness."

Next, they wrote that the government must never give privileges and immunities — the benefits of marriage, for example — to some classes of citizens but deny them to others on the same terms. Arkansans ratified the constitution by a majority of three to one and it has been the law of the land for 140 years.

Friday, Circuit Judge Chris Piazza, a burly ex-prosecutor, made good on those promises by striking down recent state laws that outlawed the marriage of loving couples if they were of the same sex and that prevented any part of government from ever recognizing such unions.

For going to the trouble of holding that the equal-protection clauses of the state and national constitutions actually meant what they said and applied to gay as well as to heterosexual people, a few Republican lawmakers called on the legislature to impeach Piazza. A few religious figures denounced him, as their clerical forebears had done over the centuries nearly every time the government of the people took steps to halt discrimination against some historically scorned or wretched group — African Americans, the latest tide of uncultivated immigrants, Native Americans, women, the handicapped and now sexual minorities.

But Piazza also gave Arkansas a flood of international publicity of the kind that the state has rarely gotten since 1874. Of its own volition and without waiting for the highest court of the country or another federal court to order it to end some manifest injustice, Arkansas was, at least for a few days, at the fore of history's arc. Alone of the states of the old Confederacy it was issuing marriage licenses to gay couples.

News reports Saturday and Monday showed exclamations of joy from couples who traveled to Eureka Springs or Little Rock to get marriage licenses and to be married on the spot. Some had been living together for decades, never dreaming their government would recognize their vows and dispense the protections that marriage gives to spouses.

There on the faces and in the exclamations was all the affirmation one needs of the constitutional right to "pursue their own happiness" with the government's protection. Even the Catholic bishop of Arkansas, who said it was not about human rights but about changing the definition of a word, a terrible thing to do, had to be moved by the scenes.

Here was a ruling handed down not by a federal judge appointed for life but a trial judge elected by people in his community and who, incidentally, is running for re-election this month. Widely admired, Piazza is unopposed, but his marriage ruling cannot have taken anyone by surprise. He had ruled five years ago, in a challenge to an initiated act adopted by Arkansas voters, that people's sexual orientation could not be grounds for denying them rights and privileges given to others, like adoption and foster parenting. The elected Arkansas Supreme Court upheld his ruling unanimously.

If it hasn't by now, the Supreme Court probably will stay Piazza's order and halt recognition of the marriages while it reviews the case. The U. S. Supreme Court will end the whole debate, probably late next year, by holding exactly as Piazza did.

If the Arkansas Supreme Court follows its own precedents, it will beat the U.S. Supreme Court to the punch, as it did in the first same-sex legal issue, state sodomy laws. The U.S. court, in a 5-4 opinion written by Kennedy appointee Whizzer White, held in 1986 that a Georgia law making homosexual acts a crime was dandy, but Anthony Kennedy, a Reagan appointee, shifted the court in the opposite direction in 2003. It did so only after the Arkansas Supreme Court decided that the Arkansas sodomy law was unconstitutional. Since the U.S. court had said state sodomy statutes did not violate equal protection, due process or privacy rights under the U.S. Constitution, the Arkansas court relied on similar but much stronger provisions in the Arkansas Constitution.

Only two of the five Arkansas justices who decided the sodomy case are still on the court and one will retire Jan. 1, but the crisp language of the two prevailing opinions, by Justices Annabelle Imber and Robert L. Brown, would fit the current case. Over and over, the justices wrote that the state could not impose sanctions on a couple or deny them rights accorded to others simply because their relationship violated the majority's notions of morality or religious beliefs.

Favorite

From the ArkTimes store

Speaking of Chris Piazza, same-sex Marriage

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Ernest Dumas

  • Obamascare

    Republicans at long last may be about to see their most fervent wishes and wildest predictions materialize — millions of people losing their medical and hospital coverage, unaffordable insurance, lost jobs, a Medicare financial crisis, mushrooming federal budget deficits and fiscal crises across state governments.
    • Jun 22, 2017
  • Ethics upended

    Every week, Donald Trump finds another way to upend conventional ethics in government and politics. Here's one that has been in the making since the campaign but is reaching maturity in the Russian investigation: He is turning the heroes of government scandals into the villains.
    • Jun 15, 2017
  • No longer leading

    If you are among the great majority of Americans and even larger share of the global population who share a concern about the future in a heating world, President Trump's announcement that he would withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement left you furious or just deeply sad.
    • Jun 8, 2017
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • AEC dumps ALEC

    No matter which side of the battle over global warming you're on, that was blockbuster news last week. No, not the signing of the climate-change treaty that commits all of Earth's 195 nations to lowering their greenhouse-gas emissions and slowing the heating of the planet, but American Electric Power's announcement that it would no longer underwrite efforts to block renewable energy or federal smokestack controls in the United States.
    • Dec 17, 2015
  • No tax help for Trump

    The big conundrum is supposed to be why Donald Trump does so well among white working-class people, particularly men, who do not have a college education.
    • Aug 11, 2016
  • Dollars and degrees

    Governor Hutchinson says a high graduation rate (ours is about the lowest) and a larger quotient of college graduates in the population are critical to economic development. Every few months there is another, but old, key to unlocking growth.
    • Aug 25, 2016

Most Shared

  • Hutchinson lobbyist moves to Teacher Retirement System

    Rett Hatcher, director of legislative affairs for Gov. Asa Hutchinson, has left the governor's staff to go to work Wednesday as deputy director of the Arkansas Teacher Retirement System.
  • Obamascare

    Republicans at long last may be about to see their most fervent wishes and wildest predictions materialize — millions of people losing their medical and hospital coverage, unaffordable insurance, lost jobs, a Medicare financial crisis, mushrooming federal budget deficits and fiscal crises across state governments.
  • Megyn vs. Alex

    As vigorously hyped broadcast events go, Megyn Kelly's televised confrontation with internet conspiracy cultist Alex Jones proved something of a dud.

Latest in Ernest Dumas

  • Obamascare

    Republicans at long last may be about to see their most fervent wishes and wildest predictions materialize — millions of people losing their medical and hospital coverage, unaffordable insurance, lost jobs, a Medicare financial crisis, mushrooming federal budget deficits and fiscal crises across state governments.
    • Jun 22, 2017
  • Ethics upended

    Every week, Donald Trump finds another way to upend conventional ethics in government and politics. Here's one that has been in the making since the campaign but is reaching maturity in the Russian investigation: He is turning the heroes of government scandals into the villains.
    • Jun 15, 2017
  • No longer leading

    If you are among the great majority of Americans and even larger share of the global population who share a concern about the future in a heating world, President Trump's announcement that he would withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement left you furious or just deeply sad.
    • Jun 8, 2017
  • More »

Event Calendar

« »

June

S M T W T F S
  1 2 3
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28 29 30  

Most Viewed

  • Cops and juries

    I try not to second-guess jury verdicts in trials I do not watch, as I know from the past decade as a criminal defense lawyer that what the jury sees and hears inside the courtroom is not always the same as what the public sees and hears outside the courtroom.
  • Megyn vs. Alex

    As vigorously hyped broadcast events go, Megyn Kelly's televised confrontation with internet conspiracy cultist Alex Jones proved something of a dud.
  • Obamascare

    Republicans at long last may be about to see their most fervent wishes and wildest predictions materialize — millions of people losing their medical and hospital coverage, unaffordable insurance, lost jobs, a Medicare financial crisis, mushrooming federal budget deficits and fiscal crises across state governments.
  • War reporter

    Ray Moseley: Native Texan. Naturalized Arkansan. Reporter, world traveler, confidant of Queen Elizabeth II.

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Cops and juries

    • Wow, "Investigator of both sides" (clearly not), what a tasteless and useless comment. You may…

    • on June 22, 2017
  • Re: Cops and juries

    • Starting out ad hominem and making fun of the writer's name? I read no further.

    • on June 22, 2017
  • Re: War reporter

    • I was honored to be a member of the news staff when both Roy Reed…

    • on June 21, 2017
 

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation