Federal challenge of Arkansas same-sex marriage ban amended to reflect developments

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TURNED DOWN: Pam and Rita Jernigan, at county clerk's office when they failed to obtain a marriage license,  were married in Iowa and are now seeking injunctions against state officials against discriminatory state law. - BRIAN CHILSON
  • Brian Chilson
  • TURNED DOWN: Pam and Rita Jernigan, at county clerk's office when they failed to obtain a marriage license, were married in Iowa and are now seeking injunctions against state officials against discriminatory state law.

Plaintiffs in a federal court lawsuit challenging the state's statutory and constitutional prohibitions on same-sex marriage have filed an amended version of the lawsuit.

Among other changes, the lawsuit adds references to a number of decisions in federal courts in other states invalidating state laws discriminating against same-sex couples, either by prohibiting marriage or not granting recognition to legal marriages in other states. It seeks a preliminary injunction.

Said the lawsuit, in an amended complaint filed Friday:

Arkansas cannot justify its exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage  and marriage recognition under any standard of constitutional scrutiny. 

As other lawsuits have done, the Arkansas challenge notes Justice Antonin Scalia's own analysis, in opposing a decision favoring recognition for a legally married woman under federal tax law, that the decision could lead inevitably to the broader rulings.


Among other arguments, the suit says:

Government interference with fundamental liberty interests triggers strict scrutiny. As such, Arkansas’s denial of state-recognized marriage to same-sex couples and its refusal to recognize same-sex marriages entered into in other jurisdictions may be upheld only upon a showing that the restrictions are narrowly tailored to advance a  compelling government interest. Defendants cannot meet this requirement. The challenged laws are not even rationally related to the furtherance of a legitimate government interest. Therefore, the laws are facially unconstitutional and as applied to the Plaintiffs. 

The suit details benefits and privileges allowed only to married couples, including workers comp and insurance and retirement benefits. It said: "Laws that refuse to recognize the marriages of same-sex couples validly
entered into in other jurisdictions are facially unconstitutional and as applied to Plaintiffs  because they categorically deprive Plaintiffs of rights based on their sexual orientation. "

The amended complaint specifically seeks injunctions in behalf of plaintiffs Rita and Pam Jernigan against Richard Weiss, director of the state Department of Finance and Administration, and George Hopkins, director of the Arkansas Teacher Retirement System. DFA won't allow the couple, legally married in Iowa, to file a joint tax return. The retirement system won't extend spousal benefits to Pam Jernigan under Rita Jernigan's retirement plan because she may not be considered a spouse under Arkansas law. The suit said:

Numerous similarly-situated same-sex couples in the state who have entered into valid marriages in states that recognize same-sex marriage are deprived of  the benefits that DFA and ATRS provide to married opposite-sex couples. No public  interest exists in continued discrimination that lacks a legitimate purpose and targets a certain class of people for unlawful discrimination based on sexual preference.

The suit seeks declaratory judgments that Arkansas Constitution and laws violate the federal constitution and for injunctive relief. Jack Wagoner, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said he hoped to have a hearing quickly on the request for a preliminary injunction. Judge Kristin Baker is handling the case.

Here's the full complaint.

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