U.S. district judges on Tuesday ruled the same-sex marriage ban in the Conservatives states of Arkansas and Mississippi unconstitutional, overturning measures that voters approved over a decade ago.
Reuters reports that judges Kristine Baker in Little Rock, Arkansas, and Carlton Reeves in Jackson, Mississippi, ruled that the bans on homosexual marriage "denied guarantees of equal protection under the law for gay couples."
Reeves stayed his ruling for 14 days but also noted clerks could not issue gay marriage licenses until further guidance was given from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals or the U.S. Supreme Court.
He added that he made the decision based on whether same-sex couples were capable of loving one another, being in committed relationships and being good parents.
"Answering 'Yes' to each of these questions leads the court to the inescapable conclusion that same-sex couples should be allowed to share in the benefits, and burdens, for better or for worse, of marriage," he wrote.
A spokesperson for the Arkansas Democratic Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said that he is examining the ruling and would decide whether to appeal after the Thanksgiving holidays, after consulting with Republican Attorney General-elect Leslie Rutledge in Arkansas. Officials in Mississippi have already decided to appeal any ruling that overturns the law, the AP reports.
Thirty-five states plus the District of Columbia now allow gays and lesbians to marry. The trend escalated after the Supreme Court ruled last June that legally married same-sex couples nationwide are eligible for federal benefits, striking down a key part of the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act.
However, according to NBC exit polling results, U.S. voters are evenly divided on the issue of gay marriage; just 48 percent of those who voted in November's elections said they think same-sex marriage should be legally recognized in their home state, while the same amount of voters said they are opposed to legally recognizing gay marriage in their state.
"The judge's rulings do not reflect the will of the people, particularly in an area as socially conservative as the south," says pastor Rick Murphy of First Baptist Church in Little Rock, Arkansas.
"Mississippi has a 1997 law and a 2004 voter-approved constitutional amendment that define marriage as being between a man and a woman. In addition, these recent rulings are a severe disappointment to those of us within these states that adhere to the Word of God."
Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Russell D. Moore has also warned that "Red states and Bible Belts do not provide adequate protection from these cultural trends" and has urged the Church to "[be] preaching and articulating a Christian vision of sexuality as rightly expressed in the one-flesh union of a man and a woman."
"[Preaching and teaching] must not stop at morals, but go on to show how marriage is rooted in the Gospel, as a picture of Christ and the Church," Moore continued. "And our churches must be - like Jesus and His apostles - those who call for repentance of sin and those who offer mercy to all who come to Christ in repentance and faith."