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Gay couples proudly wed, but state mostly averse

March 28, 2013 at 3:22 a.m.

WASHINGTON - Little Rock residents Ted Holder and his husband, Joe van den Heuvel, hang their marriage license in their home office. Allen and Jonathan Loibner-Waitkus have theirs on the wall right inside the front door, and Jay Barth and Chuck Cliett’s certificate is in a prominent place in the hallway right outside the couple’s kitchen.

Across the state in Fayetteville, Blake and Taylor Pennington display theirs in their living room.

To the four gay couples, who left Arkansas for their weddings, the out-of-state marriage licenses are both a symbol of how far the country has come in accepting their love, and a reminder that their unions are not recognized in their home state.In 2004, Arkansans overwhelmingly voted for a constitutional amendment that banned gay marriage. And on Wednesday, state legislators passed a resolution voicing their support for the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as being between a man and a woman.

“It’s not about homosexuality,” said David Ray, a spokesman for the Republican Party of Arkansas. “It’s about affirming the definition of marriage as it has always been. [Gay marriage] would be a drastic departure from the entire course of human history.”

Allen Loibner-Waitkus, a journalism professor at Pulaski Technical College, said most heterosexual couples probably don’t know where their marriage licenses are. For gay couples he said, they are symbols of achievement.

“We’ve spent our lives fighting for this,” said Allen Loiber-Waitkus, a Little Rock resident who said he and his husband held the first gay wedding reception at the Clinton Presidential Center. “Gay couples have gotten people excited about marriage again.”

Allen Loibner-Waitkus said that he doesn’t display emotions very easily. But in July 2009, when he and Jonathan stood on a balcony and exchanged vows in Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., his tears flowed freely.

A crowd at a restaurant in the same building had gone outside to cheer the newlyweds.

Jonathan leaned in and told Allen: “If this were Arkansas, they’d have rifles,” Allen Loibner-Waitkus said.

While the national Democratic Party and a few national Republican leaders now favor what they call “marriage equality,” it’s hard to find any major Arkansas politicians - Republican or Democrat - who will publicly endorse same-sex marriage.

Members of Arkansas’ congressional delegation oppose gay marriage and expressed support for a 2004 ballot initiative that defined marriage in Arkansas as between a man and a woman.

Blake and Taylor Pennington met at a barbecue in Fayetteville.

They said they knew within months that they were ready for a lifetime commitment. Unable to get married in Arkansas, they drove with a few friends to Des Moines, Iowa, in 2011 to exchange vows.

“We had our moms on a speakerphone so they could hear us,” he said.

But Pennington, a lawyerin Rogers, said the nuptials were bittersweet.

“It’s depressing that the state we’ve both given a lot back to has no desire to recognize our relationship,” he said.

CHANGING POLITICAL LANDSCAPE

After listening to the second day of arguments on gay marriage, Chad Griffin, an Arkadelphia native and head of the nation’s largest gayrights organization, stepped out of the U.S. Supreme Court building into the bright sun, where he was cheered by hundreds of supporters.

“Hi guys,” he beamed as he stopped to have his photo taken with a group of gay-marriage supporters from California.

The nation’s highest court won’t rule on the two gay-marriage cases - Hollingsworth v. Perry and United States v. Windsor - until June. Griffin, president of the Washington-based Human Rights Campaign emerged from the court optimistic that prohibitions on same-sex marriage would be overthrown this year. And if the cases don’t go his way, Griffin was still confident that support of gay marriagewas no-longer a risky position to take. Now, he said, it is a greater liability to be against gay marriage.

“The end of state-sanctioned discrimination is in sight in this country,” he said. “Our elected leaders are either going to be on the right side of history, or the wrong side of history.”

During the Supreme Court arguments on the Windsor case Wednesday, the justices alluded to the changing political landscape on gay marriage.

Roberta Kaplan, who argued for Edith Windsor, the plaintiff in the case, said that there has been a “sea change” in attitudes toward gay marriage since 1996, when Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act, which also allows states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions.

“Times can blind,” Kaplan said, “and … back in 1996 people didn’t have the understanding they have today.”

In his questioning, Chief Justice John Roberts suggested that changing attitudes on gay marriage have been brought on by an effective political campaign, rather than a “sea change” in values.

“As far as I can tell, political figures are falling over themselves to endorse your side of the case,” Roberts said.

“I don’t think societal understanding came strictly through political power,” responded Kaplan, who said the change came “from an understanding “that gay married couples’ relationships are not significantly different from the relationships of straight married people.” ARKANSAS ‘IN THE MAINSTREAM’

Jay Barth, a political-science professor at Hendrix College, said changing attitudes on gay marriage have come “at the personal level.” As gays have become more open about their sexuality in recent years, he said, the issue has touched their close friends, family and acquaintances.

But same-sex marriage has fewer backers in Arkansas, Barth said. If another vote were held on gay marriage in the state, Barth said, it would produce a similar result as itdid in 2004, when 75 percent of Arkansans voted to change the state constitution.

“Arkansas is a state that’s real resistant to change,” he said.

Arkansas elected officials, regardless of party, also are unwilling to reject the traditional definition of marriage.

Members of the state’s congressional delegation this week voiced their support for the state constitution’s 2004 marriage amendment.

“Children who are most successful come from a two-member marriage - a man and a woman,” said Sen. John Boozman, a Republican.

Asked how he came to that conclusion, Boozman said: “I am not a sociologist. I just know that for centuries the definition of marriage has been that it is between a man and a woman.”

Boozman said support for same-sex marriage was strongest in a few “liberal” states.

“Arkansas is really in the mainstream” on the issue, Boozman said.

Rep. Rick Crawford, a Republican, also opposes gay marriage.

“I’m still a strong proponent of traditional marriage as we know it,” Crawford said.

Rep. Tom Cotton, a Republican, denied an interview request.

“He doesn’t have a lot to say on that topic,” said his spokesman, Caroline Rabbit.

Neither did Reps. Steve Womack and Tim Griffin, both Republicans, both of whom issued statements in support of traditional marriage.

Michael Teague, a spokesman for Sen. Mark Pryor, the delegation’s only Democratic member, said Pryor had a “moral belief that marriage is between a man and a woman.” He said that he didn’t know the “ultimate” answer, but that he believed that homosexuality is a choice, not a characteristic people are born with.

Less than a decade ago, virtually every major political figure in the country opposed same-sex marriage. But since then, the polls and the politicians have shifted. Former President Bill Clinton switched sides in 2009. President Barack Obama changed positions in 2012.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton endorsed gay marriage earlier this year.

Now, some key Republican leaders are rethinking their stances. Former Vice President Dick Cheney said he supports it.

So does Ohio Sen. Rob Portman who came out in favor of same-sex nuptials last week.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee warned that Republicans shouldn’t change their views on gay marriage because of the “whims of culture.”

But he said such a switch by the GOP is possible. If more Republicans join Portman, Huckabee said the party would lose a key bloc of supporters.

“They might, and if they do, they’ll lose a large part of their base because evangelicals will take a walk,” he said in an interview published Wednesday by Newsmax.

On his radio show Wednesday, Huckabee, a former Baptist preacher, said gay marriage isn’t condoned in the Bible.

“I cannot find anything in Scripture that says, yes, samesex marriage is a wonderful, God-blessed institution,” he said.

Front Section, Pages 8 on 03/28/2013

Print Headline: Gay couples proudly wed, but state mostly averse

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