LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas officials asked a federal judge and the state Supreme Court Wednesday to suspend lawsuits challenging the state's gay marriage ban while a similar case is pending before the nation's highest court.
The attorney general's office filed a motion asking U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker to stay the proceedings in the lawsuit filed by two same-sex couples challenging a 2004 constitutional amendment and earlier state law banning gay marriage. The AG's office later filed a similar motion before the state Supreme Court, which is also weighing the state's ban.
In the filing, the AG's office cited Utah's appeal filed a day earlier with the U.S. Supreme Court asking it to uphold the state's gay marriage ban. A federal appeals court in Denver ruled in June that states cannot deny same-sex couples the fundamental right to marry. The ruling upheld a December decision by a federal judge overturning Utah's ban.
State officials said potential involvement by the U.S. Supreme Court could make the Arkansas case moot.
"Without a stay of these proceedings, the parties and the court will suffer the hardship of unnecessary and unwarranted litigation, and the parties and court could suffer the hardship of a ruling quickly reversed or modified by the United States Supreme Court," the filing said. The state argued the stay wouldn't hurt the Arkansas couples' case since it could still be taken up if justices won't consider the Utah appeal.
If the Supreme Court decides to take the Utah case, it will be the first time the top court considers gay marriage since justices last year struck down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Since that decision, gay marriage advocates have won more than 20 victories in federal courts.
The state later Wednesday morning filed a similar motion before the state Supreme Court, which is also weighing whether to uphold Arkansas' gay marriage ban. A Pulaski County judge earlier this year struck down the state's gay marriage ban, which prompted more than 500 same-sex couples to wed before the ruling was suspended. The motion before the state Supreme Court also asks justices to suspend proceedings while the nation's high court considers Utah's appeal.
Gay marriage is legal in 19 states and the District of Columbia.