Lawsuit filed challenging state's marriage amendment


LITTLE ROCK — A same-sex Arkansas couple filed a lawsuit filed in Pulaski County Circuit Court Tuesday challenging Amendment 83, Arkansas’ constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

The lawsuit by White County residents Kendall and Julia Wright argues that the 2004 constitutional amendment, which received 75 percent of the popular vote, violates their constitutional rights.

“The plaintiffs seek a declaratory judgment finding the unequal treatment of homosexuals set forth (in Amendment 83) … to be unconstitutional and facially invalid due to their narrow focus on denying the class of homosexuals the right to be married and/or the right to have their legal marriage recognized by the state of Arkansas,” the couple argued in the lawsuit.

The lesbian couple, who have two children, were legally married in Des Moines, Iowa, on March 8, following a 2008 marriage ceremony at a church in Arkansas, according to the lawsuit.

In 2011, the couple entered their names in the city of Eureka Springs’ domestic partnership registry.

Last week, Arkansans for Equality, a gay rights group, submitted wording to the attorney general for a proposed ballot measure that would repeal Amendment 83, which defines marriage as only between one man and one woman and bans gay marriage and civil unions.

If the proposal is certified by the attorney general, Arkansans for Equality would have to gather 78,133 signatures of registered voters by July 7, 2014, to get the proposal on next year’s general election ballot.

The group’s proposal was submitted the day after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Clinton-era Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman. The ruling made same-sex married couples eligible for federal benefits, but the nation’s highest court left it to individual states to decide who can marry.

The justices, in a separate but related case, cleared the way for same-sex marriage in California without establishing a constitutional right for gays to marry in all states.

Cheryl Maples, attorney for Kendall and Julia Wright, said Tuesday she filed the lawsuit in circuit court, rather than federal court, because she think it stands a better chance of being successful there.

“In my complaint I have brought up both the federal and state constitutions, but Arkansas’ constitution is much more generous when it comes to human rights than the federal constitution,” Maples said.

Jerry Cox, president of the Christian conservative group Family Council, said Amendment 83 has been in place for almost 10 years “and if it was legally suspect it would have been challenged long ago.”

The Family Council spearheaded the drive for the amendment in 2004.

“This lawsuit appears to be more about publicity than about trying to address any legal deficiencies with our constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman,” Cox said.