Gay Couples in Arkansas Are Flocking to the Altar. Justice Kennedy Should Be Watching.

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May 15 2014 12:23 PM

Gay Couples in Arkansas Are Flocking to the Altar. Justice Kennedy Should Be Watching.

The Rev. Jennie Barrington performs the marriage ceremony of Amanda Boyd and Narkisha Scott at the Pulaski County Courthouse in Little Rock, Arkansas, on May 12, 2014.
Facts on the ground: The Rev. Jennie Barrington performs the marriage ceremony of Amanda Boyd and Narkisha Scott in Little Rock, Arkansas, on May 12, 2014.

Photo by Jacob Slaton/Reuters

Over at the Washington Post, Abby Phillip has a fun feature about the jaw-dropping multitudes of gay couples who are racing to the altar in Arkansas, where marriage equality is suddenly legal. How do we know gay couples are tripping over each other to get a marriage license while the getting is good? Just take a look at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s “Marriage Licenses” section on Wednesday—and compare it with the same section the day before the gay marriage ruling. That’s a lot of names.

Why is any of this important, aside from the obvious cute factor? Because the Arkansas Supreme Court may be poised to halt gay marriages while the state appeals the initial ruling—leaving the gay couples who have already wed in legal limbo. When a similar situation occurred in Utah, the already married couples became facts on the ground, putting a powerful face to the gay marriage fight and lending urgency to a speedy, pro-equality ruling. It’s simple enough to rule against gay marriage as an abstract principle. But when that ruling is going to nullify the marriages of thousands of loving couples, a moral-minded judge might balk. Besides, many of these couples have kids, and judges can’t ignore—as Justice Anthony Kennedy phrased it during Prop 8 oral arguments—the fact that these children “want their parents to have full recognition and full status.”

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These, anyway, are the stakes of the Arkansas battle now: The state’s abstract argument that gay marriage is icky, versus the plaintiffs’ concrete argument that gay couples—including those already married in Arkansas—deserve the “full recognition and full status” that Justice Kennedy eloquently praised. I have no idea how the Arkansas Supreme Court will rule on this particular flashpoint. But I have a strong suspicion that when the issue reaches Justice Kennedy once again, he’ll take these facts on the ground very, very seriously.

Mark Joseph Stern is a writer for Slate. He covers science, the law, and LGBTQ issues.

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