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Arkansas GOP leaders try to diffuse war of words over reactions to gay marriage ruling


LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas — Opposition from Arkansas legislative leaders to the U.S. Supreme Court's recent ruling lifting the ban on gay marriage nationwide bubbled over into a war of words late Thursday between the state's legislative and executive branches.

Over the week since the ruling, the House and Senate Republican caucuses have said they plan to push for legislation to reinforce protections for those who disagree with the ruling on religious grounds.

But Gov. Asa Hutchinson has said county clerks who issue marriage licenses must follow the ruling. He said he believes a religious objections law passed by the Legislature earlier this year sufficiently protects the state's pastors, religious institutions and individuals.

But wires were crossed during a flurry of statements released this week as at least one county clerk resigned over what she said were moral objections to issuing same-sex marriage licenses.

The House Republican caucus issued a statement Tuesday calling the ruling dangerous and noting that Republican state representatives are considering their options. Senate Republicans said they are working on legislation to reinforce religious protections in the event that Hutchinson calls a special session.

Responding to the Legislature, Hutchinson said in a statement late Thursday that his position had not changed but he would consider the additional protections.

"I will continue to determine what legislative action is needed to address the myriad of legal issues that will result from the ruling and also what legislation is needed to protect the churches, pastors and religious institutions who cannot follow the dictates of the Court," he wrote.

Sen. Jason Rapert, an outspoken opponent of gay marriage, chastised the governor for the statement, saying Hutchinson didn't understand the separation of powers between the state's legislative and executive branches.

The Conway Republican sent a response late Thursday as part of an email chain with Senate Republicans, saying the governor's statement was full of arrogance. The email was leaked to several media outlets Friday and the contents of the email were confirmed to The Associated Press.

Reached by phone Friday, Rapert declined to provide a copy of the email to The Associated Press. He said he was disappointed by the governor's statement, but the email chain was intended to be private.

"The governor does not unilaterally decide what we do in this state when it comes to legislative remedies," he said.

Rapert said he hopes legislation will be proposed to protect county clerks.

"Right now, courage means standing up for your beliefs and not resigning. Right now, religious liberty is under attack in America," he added.

Hutchinson said Friday that his statement was misinterpreted.

"No offense was certainly intended to the prerogatives of the legislative branch," he said. "The statement was in relation to if a special session is in question, I as governor have to determine what legislation is on the call for the Legislature to consider. I certainly recognize the role of the legislative branch."

Hutchinson previously said he doesn't intend to call for another special session this year.

Associated Press writer Kelly P. Kissel contributed to this report.

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