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Arkansas's Call for a Constitutional Convention of States Progresses, Before Failing

Jacqueline Froelich
Arkansas Public Media

Two joint resolutions sponsored by Arkansas Republican Senator Jason Rapert calling for a Convention of States to propose, under the power of Article V, amendments to the U.S. Constitution to redefine marriage as between one man and one woman and that life begins at conception-- effectively banning abortion--passed the Arkansas Senate, but failed in the House of Representatives late Tuesday.

In February, Senator Rapert, District 35, Conway made his case for social change to the Arkansas Senate.

“It’s kinda like sittin’ there and somebody’s attacking the house," he said. "They’re coming through the front door, and you got a shot gun over in the corner and you know you can use a shot gun to stop the aggressor. But you don’t go pick up the shotgun to stop the aggressor. Pick it up. Article 5. Pick it up. Propose an amendment. Pick it up. And stand up for what you believe in.”

Credit Jason Rapert
Arkansas Senator Jason Rapert

Senate Joint Resolutions 7 and 9, respectively, passed the Senate, but failed in the Arkansas House Tuesday afternoon. On the House floor, Republican Representative Mickey Gates, Hot Springs, described Rapert's resolutions as an opportunity to stop federal overreach.

“It seems that regardless of what we choose to do as a state," Meeks said, "outside influences tell us what our values are and what our contracts are going to be.”

Both resolutions only yielded 29 votes in favor. 

The Supreme Court ruling on Roe v Wade, which legalized abortion in 1973, and Obergefell v Hodges, which in 2015 legalized same-sex marriage are based on the fundamental right to privacy under the Due Process Clause according to the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. And Arkansas Senator Jason Rapert sought to nullify both same- sex marriage and abortion using Article V.

“Article 5 was certainly intended as a check and balance on government and if need be there is a mechanism to amend the Constitution," says Danielle Weatherby, an associate professor of law in the University of Arkansas School of Law at Fayetteville.

Credit Danielle Weatherby
Danielle Weatherby, Associate Professor of Law, University of Arkansas-Fayetteville.

"Senator Rapert is essentially trying to organize a cohesive nationwide movement to amend the constitution," she says. "That would be the only way to overturn the Obergefell decision recognizing legal same-sex marriage—is by way of constitutional amendment unless the Supreme Court were to revisit this issue in a subsequent case."

Weatherby says had either of Rapert’s resolutions passed, and went on to be signed by the Governor of Arkansas--33 more states would be required to do the same thing, in order to vote to convene a Constitutional Convention of States to amend the U.S. Constitution under Article V. 

“It’s very difficult to ratify an amendment to the U.S. Constitution," she says. "Think about this, since 1789, approximately 11,700 measures have been proposed to amend the Constitution and only 27 have been ratified.”

Jennifer and Kristin Seaton-Rambo of Fort Smith were the first among 600 same-sex couples to be legally married in Arkansas, in May of 2014, right after Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Chris Piazza ruled that Arkansas’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional--a decision which was later appealed to the Arkansas Supreme Court. An estimated 390,000 same sex couples were later united in marriage nation-wide shortly after Obergefell.

Credit Jennifer Seaton-Rambo
Jennifer and Kristin Seaton-Rambo, the first same-sex couple to be legally married in Arkansas.

Jennifer Seaton-Rambo says she and her spouse have fully embraced all the rights conveyed by marriage.

"Being married has added security for us both," she says. "With my new employment, I was easily able to add Kristin as my spouse to my insurance. That's an incredible feeling, to be equally treated and insured. We filed [taxes] together, as well. Which both of these things were both impossible before our marriage legalization. We are also in the works of creating our wills and such.”

Jennifer Seaton-Rambo says she was upset to learn about Arkansas Senator Rapert's resolution towards a national effort to end same-sex marriage.

"The possibility of the legislature taking away our marriage rights is very disheartening," she says. "Our marriage is doing no harm to anyone, and should not be in constant limbo. We should stay focused on more important things in this world, rather than trying to take away a family's equal rights.”

Because of opposition to social issues like same-sex marriage and abortion, a simulation Constitutional Convention, involving 137 “practice” delegates from all 50 states, as reported by National Review, recently convened in Colonial Williamsburg late last summer, indicating a growing interest in the power of Article V.  

Tape of Senator Jason Rapert's address to the State Senate courtesy KUAR Public Radio.

This story is produced by Arkansas Public Media, a statewide journalism collaboration among public media organizations. Arkansas Public Media reporting is funded in part through a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, with the support of partner stations KUAR, KUAF, KASU and KTXK and from members of the public. You can learn more and support Arkansas Public Media’s reporting at Arkansas Public Media is Natural State news with context.

Jacqueline Froelich is an award-winning senior news reporter for KUAF-91.3 FM in Fayetteville where she is a long-time station-based correspondent for NPR in Washington D.C. She covers energy, business, education, politics, the environment, and culture. Her work is broadcast locally on KUAF’s daily news magazine, “Ozarks At Large,” and statewide on Arkansas’s three public radio affiliates.
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