- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers:

Texarkana Gazette, May 13, 2014

Gay marriage

Back in 2004, Arkansans went to the polls to decide the meaning of marriage.

The question was a proposed state constitutional amendment defining marriage as “only of the union of one man and one woman.”

The amendment also said the legal status “for unmarried persons which is identical or substantially similar to marital status shall not be valid or recognized in Arkansas, except that the legislature may recognize a common law marriage from another state between a man and a woman.”

In other words, same-sex marriage would be illegal in Arkansas. And it doesn’t matter if gay or lesbian couples did manage to wed where such unions are legal, Arkansas would not recognize them.

The amendment passed with 75 percent of the vote.

Now, that may change.

Twenty same-sex couples filed suit to overturn the amendment. Twelve of those couples wanted to get married, while the other eight had married in other states. And last week Judge Chris Piazza of the Pulaski County Circuit Court ruled in their favor, saying the the Arkansas amendment did not serve “any conceivable legitimate state interest.” and was therefore unconstitutional.

“Same-sex couples are a morally disliked minority and the constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages is driven by animus rather than a rational basis,” he wrote in his ruling. “This violates the United States Constitution.”

Unlike some judges in similar cases in their states, Piazza did not stay his ruling. Which means county clerks could start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples immediately.

Some did. On Saturday, the courthouse in Eureka Springs saw 15 such licenses issued. And in Little Rock, the Pulaski County Clerk started issuing licenses to a large crowd of same-sex couples on Monday.

But there is a hitch. Only seven counties are specifically named in the lawsuit_and that raises the question whether other counties are obliged to fall in line with Piazza’s ruling.

It seems most_including those in our area_aren’t planning to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples before receiving clarification from the state or a higher court ruling. We think that’s the proper thing to do. No sense handing out marriage license that might be valid one day and leave the recipients in legal limbo the next. Better to let this play out in court.

Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said over the weekend that though he personally supports gay marriage, it is his duty to appeal Piazza’s decision and defend state law. And on Monday he asked the Arkansas Supreme Court to stay the judge’s ruling pending that appeal.

No word yet on when the state’s highest court will rule on that request.

We believe that marriage is between one man and one woman. But our belief does not blind us to reality.

Attitudes are changing. Demographics are changing. Polls consistently show American favor legal same-sex marriage by a small margin. Among younger people the margin is larger.

The U.S. Supreme Court has yet to decide if states can legally ban same-sex marriage. But that ruling will come. And considering the court struck down the federal 1996 Defense of Marriage Act last year with the backing of key swing vote Justice Anthony Kennedy, it’s not hard to predict how they will eventually rule.

The only question is how long Arkansas_and the other states with gay marriage bans_can put off the inevitable.

___

Harrison Daily Times, May 12, 2014

Prayer at public meetings par for course

A recent ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court concerning prayer at public meetings shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise to people living in this part of the world, but we believe it to be the right decision.

The high court was asked to decide the case regarding the town council in Greece, New York, starting public meetings with prayer. Justices ruled 5-4 that it was allowable under the Constitution as long as it’s not meant to put pressure on people to join or participate.

Few and far between are the local governing bodies that don’t begin with prayer. It’s never a long, drawn-out affair, mind you, but it does show the deference those leaders show to tradition of religion in government, while not establishing a religion of any kind.

For instance, the Harrison City Council has had a number of local pastors attend the regular monthly meeting and offer a prayer before the meeting starts. Most of those pastors do ask God to help guide aldermen as they make decision for the city and its residents, but never for guidance on a specific issue - that might be over the top a bit.

Local school boards also open meetings with prayer, which could be an issue in the future.

A case in Columbia, South Carolina, takes school boards to task for opening with prayer because students are present at school board meetings. Lawyers are seeking a stop to that practice so the students aren’t exposed to it.

We’re not so sure that’s a valid argument. Most of the students we see at school board meetings have a little more trouble staying awake than worrying about a few words said at the beginning of the meeting.

It’s just a practice of tradition, and this country could use a little more tradition these days.

___

Southwest Times Record, May 12, 2014

Task force to protect our protectors

Although there were high level community leaders from several different cities, there was no jockeying for position or bragging rights when three community councils met Thursday; there was only the common goal to protect the protectors.

At the first joint meeting of the Fort Chaffee/188th Community Council, the Little Rock Air Force Base Community Council and the Camp Robinson/Camp Pike Community Council, held at the Fort Chaffee Maneuver Training Center, Maj. Gen. Bill Wofford urged the creation of Task Force Arkansas, an executive committee comprising members from all three councils.

The single greatest threat to the country’s security is national debt, which is forcing deep cuts in the military - active duty, Reserve and Guard units alike, Gen. Wofford told the group. The combined efforts of the three councils, plus support from other community leaders and elected officials, will be necessary to keep the units based in Arkansas here and at something like their current strength.

In Fort Smith we know what community effort can do to forward these aims. Twice in recent years, the 188th Fighter Wing underwent mission changes that just as easily could have been unit-ending changes. But the Fighter Wing’s excellence coupled with the support of the community was able to change minds in the Department of Defense. Thus the F-16 mission became the A-10 mission, which in turn has been replaced with the three-pronged mission to which the unit is converting, flying remotely piloted aircraft, gathering intelligence and operating the nation’s first space targeting mission.

Speaking Friday to the Fort Smith Noon Exchange Club, 188th commander Col. Mark Anderson said the conversion underway now is the most complex the unit has seen in its 60-year history. When it is finished, the unit will have unique capabilities because of the three missions located in a single place. It’s value will be further enhanced by the joint training facilities available in the area.

Once at full strength, the new 188th will have 500 airmen with top secret clearance and advanced technical skills, Col Anderson said. This workforce is likely to attract to the Fort Smith area related businesses with highly skilled technical workers.

Of course all the units of the Arkansas National Guard have a greater impact than their federal missions alone.

In the last couple of weeks we have seen Guard units sent to Mayflower and Vilonia to provide everything from potable water to search and rescue services.

In Wednesday’s edition, we learned the 188th Civil Engineer Squadron of the 188th Fighter Wing deployed again this year to Guatemala where it built a school as part of Beyond the Horizon. Two years ago the squadron built a maternity ward in Guatemala.

Guard units are cost-effective, we have learned, compared to many active duty units with similar missions, and they are based in our communities where Guard members pay taxes and raise their children and support the same civic organizations the rest of us do.

Gathering the state’s three community councils last week made sense in more ways than we can enumerate, but it comes down to this: We are stronger when we work together than when we work alone. And we will need all the strength we can muster when it comes to defending the forces that support our communities, our state, our nation and even the disadvantaged in other parts of the world.

It will take Task Force Arkansas to protect the protectors.

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