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Attorneys seek fees in Ark. same-sex case

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports in today’s edition (May 30) that the attorneys who prevailed in the lawsuit challenging the state's gay-marriage ban asked Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza to make the state and county defendants pay them at least $500,000 for their work in the case, an amount both "reasonable" and "substantial." 

Attorneys for the state of Arkansas responded immediately, calling the request premature at best, considering Piazza's decision to overturn the same-sex marriage prohibitions is on appeal to the Arkansas Supreme Court. They've asked him to wait to make a decision until the high court rules, the Democrat-Gazette reported.

It is not known when the high court will make that ruling, as a transcript of the proceedings in Piazza's court has not been filed. Once filed and both sides submit written arguments, it is a process expected to take months, if not a year.

But if Piazza doesn't want to wait until the Supreme Court's decision, the state's lawyers want him to make the plaintiffs' attorneys show evidence to support their request, with the possibility of having a hearing on the question of payment, court filings show, the newspaper said. 

Plaintiffs in the case are 21 same-sex couples, including eight who were legally married in other jurisdictions and a single woman seeking to divorce a spouse she married in New York, the Democrat-Gazette reports. Defendants include the state departments of Health, and Finance and Administration, and county clerks in Pulaski, White, Lonoke, Conway, Saline and Washington counties, where some of the plaintiffs have been refused marriage licenses, the filing states.

The first same-sex marriage in Arkansas occurred on May 10 at the Carroll County Courthouse in Eureka Springs, according to the Democrat-Gazette. Hundreds of weddings followed, many of them at the Pulaski County Courthouse in Little Rock where clergy members volunteered to perform the ceremonies after the gay couples obtained marriage licenses.

Marriage licenses were issued to same-sex couples in Arkansas for a week – from the day after Piazza's ruling May 9 until May 16, when the high court issued a stay. During that week, only a few counties, mostly those listed as defendants in the lawsuit – issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples, the Democrat-Gazette reported.

Same-sex marriage is prohibited in 33 states, with each ban being challenged in court. Since the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling on the federal Defense of Marriage Act in June 2013, judges in 21 states have ruled that their states' gay-marriage bans are unconstitutional (Link to the full text of the decision PDF). Three such decisions have occurred since Piazza invalidated the Arkansas law three weeks ago.

Piazza ruled that Arkansas' prohibition, enacted through statute in 1997, and a state constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2004, violate guarantees of equal protection under the state and federal constitutions, the Democrat-Gazette reported.

Read the article in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (subscription required).

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