Gay Marriage Bans In Mississippi & Arkansas Get Overturned, But It's Not A Total Victory Yet

Two U.S. district judges brought the surge of marriage equality to the South on Tuesday when Mississippi and Arkansas overturned gay marriage bans. But don't run to the court house just yet; both of the judges have placed holds on the ruling to give the predominantly socially conservative states time to appeal the decision.

Both Arkansas and Mississippi passed voter-approved amendments to their state constitutions that banned gay marriage in 2004. If the U.S. district judges' opinions are allowed to go into effect, there will be 37 states where gay marriage is legal.

For hundreds of couples in Arkansas, it is step toward getting out of legal limbo. In May a Pulaski County circuit judge ruled that the state's 2004 ban was unconstitutional. Before the Supreme Court suspended the ruling, 541 same-sex couples tied the knot in a week's time. An appeal of that separate decision is pending before the Supreme Court.

Both U.S. district judges ruled that a gay marriage ban violated 14th Amendment rights. Judge Kristine Barker, based in Little Rock, Arkansas, wrote in her opinion that the ban violated the U.S. Constitution by "precluding same-sex couples from exercising their fundamental right to marry in Arkansas, by not recognizing valid same-sex marriages from other states, and by discriminating on the basis of gender."

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In Jackson, Mississippi, Judge Carlton Reeves devised a test to bring him to his decision. He asked if denying same sex-couples the right to marry was "state-sanctioned prejudice." He also considered some of the common traits of a happy marriage, asking if gay couples were capable of loving one another, staying committed, and being good parents.

He wrote in his opinion:

Answering "Yes" to each of these questions leads the court to the inescapable conclusion that same-sex couples should be allowed to share in the benefits, and burdens, for better or for worse, of marriage.

These decisions have punctured the Deep South in that gay marriage is now being viably considered. The region is one of the few left in the U.S., along with the a strip in the upper Midwest, that are still largely anti-marriage equality states.

Three federal circuit courts of appeal have ruled in favor of gay marriage this year, bringing the process of marriage equality to a state-by-state issue. But the 6th Circuit may have messed that up when it decided to uphold a same-sex marriage ban in four states, thus splitting the opinions of the appellate courts. This could be bad news for conservatives clinging to the state's rights argument to ban gay marriage. A split in the circuits could just mean that SCOTUS finally has to take a crack at it.

Images: Getty Images, Freedom to Marry