Ark. and Miss. Gay Marriage Bans Struck Down

By Brett Snider, Esq. on November 26, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Gay marriage bans in Arkansas and Mississippi were struck down as unconstitutional in separate federal courts late Tuesday.

Within hours of each other, Judges Kristine Baker in Little Rock, Arkansas and Carlton Reeves in Jackson, Mississippi ruled that their respective state's ban on same-sex marriage violated the constitutional guarantee of equal protection under the law. Reuters reports that as of Tuesday, there are 35 states where gay marriage is legal, but these rulings may bump up that number.

What should Americans know about the gay marriage rulings in Arkansas and Mississippi?

Mississippi Ruling

Ruling for the federal district court in Jackson, Judge Reeves opens his opinion with a rather unorthodox approach to evaluating Mississippi's marriage laws. He noted that by answering questions like:

  • Can gay and lesbian citizens love?;
  • Can gay and lesbian citizens provide what is best for their children?; and
  • Without the right to marry, are gay and lesbian citizens subjected to humiliation and indignity?

The conclusion is "inescapable" that same-sex couples should be allowed the right to marry.

Judge Reeves also found that Mississippi's laws could not stand up to the lowest level of scrutiny a court can give -- rational basis review -- when determining if the laws violated same-sex couples' rights to equal protection of the laws. And while Reeves summarizes the long history of discrimination against gays and lesbians, he found that since there was no legitimate rational basis for the marriage laws (not childrearing, nor tradition), the laws must be struck down.

Arkansas Ruling

Judge Baker had similar views on Arkansas' gay marriage ban, but applied a much higher level of scrutiny. By finding that the Arkansas law infringed on gay couples' fundamental right to marry, Judge Baker applied strict scrutiny to the state's gay marriage laws. Since the laws were not narrowly tailored to serve the Arkansas government's compelling interests, Judge Baker found the law to be unconstitutional.

Baker also agreed that the laws unconstitutional as gender-based discrimination, much like a Missouri federal court had in early November.

Both Rulings Are Stayed

Despite both states' gay marriage bans being struck down, gay marriages won't begin immediately in Arkansas and Mississippi. That's because both federal courts stayed the effect of their rulings.

Judge Baker's ruling is stayed pending an appeal to the Eighth Circuit, and Judge Reeves' has stayed his ruling for 14 days. In both cases, gay marriages are unlikely to begin until the federal circuit courts choose to act.

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