LITTLE ROCK â€” Lawyers for gay couples challenging Arkansas' ban on same-sex marriages said Wednesday they won't agree to delay a pair of lawsuits while the U.S. Supreme Court considers taking up the matter.
The couples sued Arkansas in state and federal courts last year, claiming that a constitutional amendment passed overwhelmingly by Arkansas voters in 2004 made them second-class citizens.
State lawyers last week asked the local courts to suspend proceedings in the cases while a similar one from Utah goes to the U.S. Supreme Court. The couples argued Wednesday they should be allowed to proceed.
"Plaintiffs are harmed every day that they are denied the right to marry," the lawyers wrote in a federal court filing. They said a similar response opposing the state's request for a delay would ultimately be filed with Arkansas' highest court.
A Pulaski County judge ruled for the couples this year allowed clerks statewide to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The state Supreme Court put the judge's decision on hold, pending its review, after a week. More than 540 licenses to marry were granted to same-sex couples.
A federal judge and the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver ruled against Utah's gay-marriage ban, which was similar to Arkansas'. Utah officials have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the case â€” a move that prompted Arkansas officials to seek a delay.
They said last week that waiting for justices to rule could save all the parties the "hardship of unnecessary and unwarranted litigation" and that the prevailing party could quickly see its victory reversed or modified.
The lawyers for the gay couples said the state's request was based on speculation that courts have rarely taken into consideration.
"The Supreme Court has held that granting a stay in one case pending the outcome of another is permissible 'only in rare circumstances," lawyer Angela Mann wrote for the plaintiffs, who are also challenging a separate Arkansas law that outlaws gay marriage.
If the Supreme Court denies taking up the case, Arkansas wouldn't be covered by the 10th Circuit's ruling because it is in a different part of the country. The lawyers said the Utah case also explores different issues.
Seeking a delay, they said, "is simply an attempt to prolong the state's ongoing deprivation of plaintiffs' constitutional rights."