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Former Arkansas Supreme Court justice says court voted last year to strike gay marriage ban


LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas — The Arkansas Supreme Court voted to find the state's gay marriage ban was unconstitutional but never issued its ruling months before same-sex marriage was legalized nationwide, a former state justice said in a recently published interview.

Retired state Supreme Court Justice Donald Corbin said justices late last year had voted 5-2 to uphold a state judge's decision that the ban violated the Arkansas and U.S. constitutions. Corbin said he had urged the court to issue an opinion before his term ended on Dec. 31.

The court dismissed the gay marriage case in June, hours after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.

"I tried to encourage them to conference over the Christmas holidays," Corbin said in the interview for an oral history of the court. "I had an opinion ready and I didn't think it was right for us to take a two-week vacation or a one-week vacation and not get that case out."

Corbin, who didn't immediately return a call Tuesday, is among several former justices who have been interviewed by the Arkansas Supreme Court Historical Society. The interview, which was posted on the state court system's website last month, was first reported Tuesday by the Arkansas Times blog.

Corbin's comments are the latest in an unusually public dispute on the court over its handling of the gay marriage case. Former Chief Justice Jim Hannah and Justice Paul Danielson criticized others on the court in April for creating a separate case over which justices could hear the gay marriage appeal, a move the two called a delay tactic. Hannah stepped down from the court in August for unspecified health problems, and Danielson is not seeking re-election next year.

Justice Rhonda Wood, who joined the court in January, in July said justices this year had voted on a state-specific portion of Pulaski County Judge Chris Piazza's May 2014 decision striking down the gay marriage ban, which said voters can't approve an amendment that conflicts with other rights guaranteed in the state constitution. Wood said the court only planned on releasing that opinion if the U.S. Supreme Court didn't legalize gay marriage nationwide.

In the interview, Corbin said he had a written opinion prepared for when the court issued its ruling but said the dissenting opinion was never written.

"It was a tough political issue, but legally it was a cakewalk," Corbin said. "Anybody who knows anything about the law or had any training whatsoever as a constitutional lawyer would know that."

Corbin called Piazza "courageous" for ruling in the gay marriage case, calling it a "very hot" issue.

"We were seeing polls taken showing that a vast majority of the people in Arkansas were opposed to same-sex marriage," Corbin said. "It wasn't one any of us were looking forward to getting."


Transcript of Corbin interview:

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