By Steve Barnes
LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas (Reuters) - The Arkansas Supreme Court on Wednesday left in place a lower court ruling that struck down the state's ban on same-sex marriage, ruling that the state's petition was prematurely filed.
"The (trial) court's order is not final, and we have no jurisdiction to hear the appeal," the Supreme Court said in a seven-page filing, adding the matter should be taken up by the county court that made the judgment last week.
On Friday, Pulaski Circuit Court Judge Chris Piazza of Little Rock voided the state's statutory and constitutional bans on same-sex marriage, declaring them in violation of the U.S. and Arkansas constitutions' guarantees of due process and equal treatment.
More than 400 gay and lesbian couples have since married in Arkansas, the first Southern state to permit such unions.
Arkansas attorney general Dustin McDaniel had asked the court to stay Piazza's order pending the state's appeal, which would put a halt on the marriages.
Larry Crane, the court clerk for Pulaski County, the state's most populous county that includes Little Rock, said the county would likely suspend issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples from Thursday. Almost all of the marriage licenses in Arkansas were issued in Pulaski county.
"It appears to me and my legal counsel that in today's ruling the Court is saying, 'You need to hold off on this.' So the tentative decision is that we won't be issuing (same-sex) marriage licenses at 8:00 a.m. tomorrow morning," Crane told Reuters.
"I would anticipate counsel for the plaintiffs would seek to have Judge Piazza amend his ruling," he added.
Seventeen states plus the District of Columbia allow same-sex couples to marry. That number would increase sharply if federal court rulings striking down bans in several states are upheld on appeal.
(Reporting by Steve Barnes; Editing by Jon Herskovitz, Mohammad Zargham and Ken Wills)