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Arkansas same-sex couples wed after judge ends gay marriage ban

By Steve Barnes

LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas (Reuters) - Several same-sex couples in Arkansas were married at a county courthouse in Eureka Springs on Saturday, a day after a state judge struck down the state's 10-year-old ban on gay and lesbian marriage.

The same-sex marriages were the first in the U.S. South, where every state has laws on the books banning gay marriage, according to Freedom to Marry, an advocacy group.

About 50 couples had lined up at the courthouse in Eureka Springs, a town of about 2,500 in the northwest part of the state with a vibrant lesbian, gay and transsexual community, on Saturday morning seeking licenses.

The first same-sex couple to marry was Kristin Seaton, 27, and Jennifer Rambo, 26, both of Fort Smith, Arkansas, local media reported.

On Friday, an Arkansas state judge struck down the state's ban on same-sex marriage saying it violated equal protection provisions of the U.S. Constitution, a ruling that added to the push to expand marriage rights for same-sex couples.

Judge Chris Piazza did not issue a stay of the decision, opening the door for same-sex couples to apply for marriage licenses.

The attorney general's office said it will appeal the decision and requested a stay, which would prevent a rush to courthouses of same-sex couples seeking marriage licenses.

About two years ago, Eureka Springs established the state's first and only registry of gay and lesbian couples, which offers a symbol of municipal acceptance but has no legal standing.

The courthouse at Eureka Springs is usually open on Saturdays because many heterosexual couples chose to marry in the town, a quaint community of Victorian architecture with many antique shops, boutiques and art galleries.

There were no reports of same-sex marriage licenses being issued in any of Arkansas's other 74 counties, although some were open to allow early voting in the 2014 primaries.

Larry Crane, clerk of Pulaski County, the state's most populous which is home to Little Rock, has said he will be prepared to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples when his office opens for other business on Monday morning.

Jack Waggoner, a Little Rock attorney who was lead counsel to the plaintiffs in the case decided on Friday, said the "passionate" language of the ruling suggested Judge Piazza was not likely to delay its implementation, which would leave the question of a stay to the Arkansas Supreme Court.

(Editing by Jon Herskovitz and Marguerita Choy)

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