Arkansas Supreme Court will not hear state appeal against marriage equality ruling

By Steve Barnes

LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas (Reuters) - The Arkansas Supreme Court on Wednesday left in place a lower court ruling that struck down the state's ban on same-sex marriage, saying it was not the right court to hear the state's appeal.

"The (trial) court's order is not final, and we have no jurisdiction to hear the appeal," the Supreme Court said in a seven-page filing, adding the matter should be taken up by the county court that made the judgment last week.

On Friday, Pulaski Circuit Court Judge Chris Piazza of Little Rock voided the state's statutory and constitutional bans on same-sex marriage, declaring them in violation of the U.S. and Arkansas constitutions' guarantees of due process and equal treatment.

More than 400 gay and lesbian couples have since married in Arkansas, the first Southern state to permit such unions.

Arkansas attorney general Dustin McDaniel had asked the court to stay Piazza's order pending the state's appeal, which would put a halt on the marriages.

Seventeen states plus the District of Columbia allow same-sex couples to marry. That number would increase sharply if federal court rulings striking down bans in several states are upheld on appeal.

(Reporting by Steve Barnes; Editing by Jon Herskovitz and Mohammad Zargham)

[Image: Steven Gibson (L) and Mark Hightower kiss after their marriage ceremony at the Pulaski County Courthouse in Little Rock, Arkansas May 12, 2014. By Jacob Slaton for Reuters]