LITTLE ROCK, Ark., Nov. 25 (UPI) -- Same-sex couples have a "fundamental right to marry" in Arkansas, a federal judge ruled Tuesday, staying her decision to give the state time to appeal.
U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker found that the ban involves "unconstitutional classifications on the basis of gender. She found that it violates the guarantee of equal protection in the 14th amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Arkansas voters approved an amendment to the state constitution limiting marriage to heterosexual couples in 2004, the year that the Massachusetts Supreme Court made that state the first to allow-same-sex marriage.
The state is expected to appeal. Same-sex couples will be unable to get licenses while the stay is in place, although some did marry after a state judge ruled against the Arkansas ban.
Baker heard arguments last week, the same day that the state Supreme Court held its own hearing on an appeal of a lower court ruling reversing the ban. The high court has not yet announced a decision.
Since the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed the federal Defense of Marriage Act last year, laws across the country have been challenged, mostly successfully. The Supreme Court has so far avoided taking on the issue again, but a federal appeals court that upheld same-sex marriage bans in four states could force it to rule directly on same-sex marriage.
Chad Griffin, head of the Human Rights Campaign, urged Baker to lift the stay.
"More than five hundred committed and loving gay and lesbian couples have already married in the state of Arkansas, and two separate courts have now both declared that the state's ban on marriage equality is unconstitutional," Griffin said. "There's no excuse for delaying justice even one more day. I am proud to be an Arkansan by birth, but I'll be even prouder when this shameful stain on the state Constitution is erased once and for all."