Arkansas judge strikes down state's constitutional ban on gay marriage

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - An Arkansas judge has struck down the state's constitutional ban on gay marriage.{}{} {}Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza ruled Friday that the 2004 amendment violates the rights of same-sex couples by defining marriage as allowable only between a man and a woman."Regardless of the level of review required, Arkansas's marriage laws discriminate against same-sex couples in violation of the equal protection clause because they do not advance any conceivable legitimate state interest necessary to support even a rational basis review," Piazza wrote in his summary judgement opinion issued late Friday afternoon.{}{} {}The ruling comes nearly a week after state Attorney General Dustin McDaniel announced he personally supports gay marriage rights but that he will continue to defend the constitutional ban in court."We respect the court's decision, but, in keeping with the Attorney General's obligation to defend the state constitution, we will appeal," said McDaniel. "We will request that Judge Piazza issue a stay of his ruling so as not to create confusion or uncertainty about the law while the supreme court considers the matter."{}{} {}McDaniel's office is expected to quickly appeal Piazza's ruling to the Arkansas Supreme Court.{}{} {}The 2004 amendment was passed with the overwhelming support of Arkansas voters. Family Council President Jerry Cox called Piazza's decision another example of a judge substituting his personal preference for the will of the people."As the individual who led the effort to pass Amendment 83, I am extremely disappointed that Judge Piazza has decided that marriage should be redefined. Decisions like this should be left to the people."