LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas — The judge who struck down Arkansas' gay-marriage ban last year presided over one of its first same-sex weddings Friday after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that such bans are unconstitutional.
Pulaski County Judge Chris Piazza married two men in a brief ceremony in his Little Rock courtroom. He said it was the only same-sex he planned to conduct.
"I looked at their faces and realized how much this meant to them," Piazza said.
The couple, Tony Chiaro, 73, and Earnie Matheson, 65, who have been together 26 years, said they sought out Piazza because of his ruling last year.
"We could have gone off and done it somewhere else ... but it meant so much to do it here," Matheson said.
The ruling comes a little over a year after Piazza struck down a 2004 voter-approved amendment and an earlier state law defining marriage as between a man and a woman. More than 500 couples were married in the week following Piazza's ruling before it was suspended by the state Supreme Court pending a review. State justices haven't issued a ruling.
John Schenck and Robert Loyd, partners for 40 years, arrived at the Faulkner County courthouse in Conway at 9:04 a.m. in anticipation of the high court ruling. The couple was first married in Canada in 2004 and at 9:10 on Friday received a stamped Arkansas marriage license.
"The main thing is when one of us dies there won't be a hassle about inheritance," Schenck said. "We've been fighting this for our kids."
County clerks around the state were told to begin issuing licenses to same-sex couples.
"It is the law of the land now," said Chris Villines, executive director of the Association of Arkansas Counties. The group told county clerks, "it is our opinion that ... they will need to follow it."
Grant and Boone counties said they would likely have to wait until next week before issuing licenses to same-sex couples. Grant County's clerk was away from the office and Boone County was updating computer software to accommodate the change.
A federal judge also struck down Arkansas' ban last year, but her decision was also stayed and the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis put proceedings on hold because of the high court's case.
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican who opposes gay marriage, said he disagreed with the ruling but that the state would comply.
"While my personal convictions will not change, as governor I recognize the responsibility of the state to follow the direction of the U.S. Supreme Court," Hutchinson said in a statement released by his office. "As a result of this ruling, I will direct all state agencies to comply with the decision."
Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, also a Republican who had vowed to defend the state's same-sex marriage ban, also said the state should comply. She said clerks should issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples upon request and that the ruling also entitled the couples to file joint tax returns.
"Government agencies which provide privileges and benefits to married couples or spouses of married individuals should provide the same privileges and benefits to married same-sex couples and same-sex spouses of married individuals," she wrote in a memo to state and local officials Friday afternoon.
The head of the group that campaigned for Arkansas' gay marriage ban in 2004 says he believes the U.S. Supreme Court ruling raises troubling questions about marriage that aren't easily answered.
"There are probably a dozen or more major questions that this ruling creates that I don't think anybody knows the answers to," said Jerry Cox, president of the Arkansas Family Council, which spearheaded the campaign for the 2004 amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman.
Associated Press writers Claudia Lauer and Allen Reed contributed to this report
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