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Some Arkansas counties noncommittal on gay marriage licenses following high court ruling


LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas — Five days after a landmark high court ruling, at least two Arkansas counties had not issued same-sex marriage licenses as clerks with religious and moral objections decide whether to comply with state and federal orders.

The majority of Arkansas counties have, in some cases begrudgingly, embraced Friday's U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. However, Cleburne and Randolph county officials said Wednesday that they haven't had gay couples seek licenses, but it's unclear if any such requests would be granted. It's also unclear if any clerks will push back following an offer by an out-of-state Christian conservative group to pay for their legal defense.

The indecision contradicts direction from both Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, who have issued statements scrutinizing the high court's decision but asking clerks to adhere to it.

At least one official is seeking guidance from a higher power.

"Whenever God gives me direction that's when I will move," said Randolph County Clerk Rhonda Blevins, who was noncommittal Wednesday on if she would allow a gay couple to get a marriage license.

Cleburne County Clerk Dana Guffey formally resigned Tuesday night after voicing a moral objection to same-sex marriage. County Judge Jerry Holmes said Wednesday it's unclear if the two deputy clerks will issue licenses to gay couples before county leaders discuss a replacement for Guffey next week.

Meanwhile, Yell County Clerk Sharon Barnett said she would reluctantly issue same-sex marriage licenses following a Wednesday report by the Arkansas Times that said she wasn't.

"I have a strong conscientious religious objection to the same-sex marriage law," Barnett said in a statement. "I have come to realization that my resignation would not change the fate for Yell County."

Barnett also said there will no longer be clerk or deputy clerk signatures or endorsements on any marriage licenses given out in the county.

Spokespeople with the Arkansas Association of Counties and the Arkansas Association of County Clerks said they didn't know of any other areas that weren't complying with the high court ruling.

A Florida-based conservative legal group, Liberty Counsel, has encouraged civil disobedience by clerks in Arkansas and elsewhere and has offered a free legal defense for clerks who want to fight the Supreme Court decision. Chairman Mat Staver said about 25 clerks nationwide, including three in Arkansas, had inquired about fighting Friday's ruling, but declined to identify which clerks had contacted him.

"We believe they should have a right to be able to do their job without violating their religious convictions," Staver said. "They're being forced between choosing their job or their faith."

Still, the objections don't seem to have directly impacted Arkansas couples. State leaders of both the Human Rights Campaign and the American Civil Liberties Union said they were unaware of anyone who has been rejected by county clerks.

Rita Sklar, executive director of the Arkansas ACLU, said a couple's right to marry shouldn't be impeded by a clerk's objection.

"It's very disturbing there are people in state government who are not ready and willing to uphold the law," Sklar said. "If they can't do their jobs and uphold the law they should quit."

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