JP raises question over gay marriage

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

By Scott Loftis

The Carroll County Quorum Court moved through its agenda items at a brisk pace during its July meeting on Friday before a controversial topic arose.

During the portion of the meeting designated for comments by justices of the peace on non-agenda items, District 8 JP Don McNeely brought up the subject of gay marriage.

McNeely said he had received a call from a man who said he had spoken with several JPs about performing a marriage. All of the JPs said they wouldn’t perform a marriage because they were afraid they would be sued if they refused to marry a gay couple.

McNeely said he had spoken with Carroll County assistant prosecuting attorney Thomas Allgood about the issue.

“If you do marry people, and refuse to marry a gay couple, you are liable to be sued,” McNeely said. “Of course, the Supreme Court has ruled that gay marriage is legal in all 50 states. … It’s a shame because JPs, I guess since they invented the position, has had the right to marry people and now in this day and time, if you don’t, you might get in trouble.”

McNeely said he “looked at information from other states and counties.” He referred to one JP who does perform gay marriages.

“The only reason that he does it, is ’cause of, he’s not making the sin, if we believe in the Bible,” said McNeely who did not indicate that he was referring to a local JP. “It’s the couple that’s getting married is actually the ones who are doing the sinning. Well, it’s still hard to take.”

McNeely asked his fellow JPs if they still perform marriages and District 6 JP Kellie Matt said she married a straight couple last summer.

At that point, County Judge Sam Barr interjected, reminding JPs that they aren’t supposed to ask questions during JP comments.

“Kind of a shame,” McNeely said.

District 10 JP Larry Swofford spoke next, saying District 8 JP Marty Johnson had discussed the subject with legal counsel for the Arkansas Association of Counties. Johnson was absent from Friday’s meeting.

“The position of JPs, we can marry people if we want to, but it’s not an obligation that comes with the job that you have to,” Swofford said. “You have a choice but they did tell Marty, the lawyer, I think it came from the Attorney General’s Office, that if you marry anybody, you have to marry anybody that asks you. So that’s the reason that the some have quit.”

District 3 JP Harrie Farrow said she was “very uncomfortable” talking about sin during JP comments.

“I’d just prefer that we don’t go there,” she said. “I also understand that JP comments are not for (asking questions) so that was kind of out of line anyway.”

The July meeting originally was scheduled to be held on May 20. It was rescheduled twice, the first time after Barr announced that he had tested positive for COVID-19.

Barr returned to work last week and said he was feeling well at Friday’s meeting. Everyone present for the meeting in the courtroom of the Eastern District Courthouse in Berryville wore face coverings. McNeely and Farrow participated via Zoom call.

In other business at Friday’s meeting, JPs:

• Approved a authorizing Barr to enter into a grant agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration for a project to install runway and taxiway edge lights at the Carroll County Airport, at no cost to the county;

• Approved a resolution confirming the appointment of C. Lewis Jones and Charlie Charlton as commissioners to The Bluffs at Jackson Cove subordinate service district;

• Approved an appropriation ordinance allowing vacation pay in lieu of taking off from work

• Approved a supplemental appropriation ordinance amending the 2020 county budget to the Elections account for funds received by the county treasurer;

• Approved a supplemental appropriation ordinance amending the 2020 county budget to and appropriating funds to the Carroll County Fair Grant;

• Approved a supplemental appropriation ordinance amending the 2020 county budget and appropriating money to the Recorder’s Cost Fund;

• and approved a resolution authorizing the extension a line of credit with Equity Bank for the county airport.

The quorum court’s next regular meeting is scheduled for 5 p.m. Monday, Aug. 17, in the courtroom of the Eastern District Courthouse in Berryville.

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