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Arkansas starts issuing same-sex marriage licenses

EUREKA SPRINGS, Arkansas--Gay marriage arrived in the Bible Belt in the U.S. South on Saturday, beginning with two women who had traveled overnight to ensure they'd be first in line.

But whether the marriages could continue on Monday and beyond was not clear, and the state's top lawyer said he'd appeal Friday's ruling that overturned the state's constitutional ban on same-sex marriages.

In total, 15 licenses were issued Saturday for same-sex couples in Carroll County, Deputy Clerk Jane Osborn said.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza's ruling removed a 10-year-old barrier, saying a state constitutional amendment overwhelmingly passed by Arkansas voters in 2004 banning gay marriage was “an unconstitutional attempt to narrow the definition of equality.” Piazza's ruling also overturned a 1997 state law banning gay marriage.

Arkansas' 75 county clerks were left to decide for themselves whether to grant marriage licenses.

If the judge's decision is upheld, Arkansas would join the 17 states and Washington, D.C. that have legalized same-sex marriage.

Momentum has swung toward gay marriage across the country after the U.S. Supreme Court last year ruled that a law forbidding the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages was unconstitutional. Since then, lower-court judges have repeatedly cited the decision when striking down some of the same-sex marriage bans that were enacted after Massachusetts became the first state to recognize gay marriages in 2004.

Jennifer Rambo, 26, and Kristin Seaton, 27, were the first gay couple to be legally married Saturday in one of the secessionist southern states that belonged to the losing side in the American Civil War in the 1860s. Anti-gay marriage sentiments run strong in this region known as the Bible Belt because of its large numbers of social conservatives.

Rambo and Seaton arrived in Eureka Springs about 2 a.m., slept in their vehicle and awoke every half-hour to make sure no one else would take a spot at the head of the line.

“Thank God,” Rambo said after Osborn issued their marriage license. The couple wed moments later on a sidewalk near the county courthouse; the officiant wore a rainbow-colored dress.

As dawn came, no one was certain that any clerk would issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple. Initially, deputy clerk Lana Gordon said she wasn't sure she had the authority and shooed the couples from her office.

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Jennifer Rambo, right, of Fort Smith, Arkansas, kisses her partner Kristin Seaton, left, of Jacksonville, Arkansas, following their marriage ceremony in front of the Carroll County Courthouse as Sheryl Maples, far left, the lead attorney who filed the Wright v. the State of Arkansas lawsuit, looks on, in Eureka Springs, Arkansas on Saturday, May 10.

(AP)

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