Gay marriage could come to Arkansas by any number of means, not just local courts

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LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas — Challenges to the state's ban on gay marriage are being fought in both federal and state courtrooms in Arkansas, but such unions could come to the state by other means.

No decisions were issued after the state Supreme Court and U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker heard arguments in separate but similar lawsuits Thursday. If rulings are delayed, experts said Friday, court cases from other states would directly impact Arkansas.

The most direct way would be if the U.S. Supreme Court takes on the issue of gay marriage, because the state Supreme Court is bound only by federal law decided by the nation's highest court, said Danielle Weatherby, of the University of Arkansas Law School at Fayetteville.

But she said the more likely scenario is a decision by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. If the St. Louis-based court rules in a case challenging another state's ban, that order would likely apply across its seven-state jurisdiction that includes Arkansas.

And if the Arkansas Supreme Court tosses the state's ban, which was approved by voters a decade ago, "the question will pretty much end there," she said.

The Arkansas Attorney General's office declined to comment Friday.

But lawyers for same-sex couples fighting Arkansas' ban said Friday they don't expect the cases to drag on. The Arkansas Supreme Court agreed to an expedited timetable, in part because two justices will leave the bench at the end of the year.

"I can't imagine our needing to look for other ways," lawyer Cheryl Maples said. "Assuming I'm right, this ought to be over soon and we'll have Christmas weddings."

Jack Wagoner, another attorney working with the couples, said the justices' fast-tracking the case was a good sign that the current set of justices want to settle the case before the change.

"They wouldn't have done that if they weren't interested in deciding it," he said.

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