Cheryl Kathleen Smith Maples (1950–2019)

Cheryl Maples was a prominent attorney in Little Rock (Pulaski County) and throughout the state. An outspoken champion of equal rights for all, she was particularly well known for her work on behalf of the LGBTQ+ community.

Cheryl Kathleen Smith was born on March 2, 1950, in Santa Monica, California, to Harvey Smith and Patricia Ware Smith. She lived in Pacific Palisades until 1962, when her family moved to Arkansas, eventually settling in Fayetteville (Washington County). Smith graduated from Fayetteville High School in 1968 and married Richard Maples, a student at the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville, that same day. The couple had two sons and three daughters. In 1980, at the age thirty, Cheryl Maples began college, studying first at UA and later at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, earning a law degree in 1987.

From the beginning of her legal career, Maples focused on serving those in need. She took a deeply humanitarian approach to the law and to serving her clients, with a reputation of never turning away someone who had a problem. That approach led one of her daughters to call her a “social worker with a law degree”; Maples once joked that she would have been a multimillionaire if she had collected all the money people owed her. Conservative attorney general Leslie Rutledge, with whom Maples clashed in some high-profile cases, termed Maples a “tireless, zealous advocate for her clients.”

As the issue of gay and lesbian rights came to occupy an increasingly prominent place in the American legal landscape in the early part of the twenty-first century, Maples emerged as arguably Arkansas’s most devoted and outspoken advocate of equal rights for gays and lesbians. She filed the nation’s first challenge to a state ban on gay marriages, a suit that led to an initial lower court ruling that overturned the state prohibition (Wright v. Arkansas). Consequently, for a brief period, before an appeal to the Arkansas Supreme Court put a stay on the lower court ruling, same-sex couples were allowed to marry in Arkansas. The full-scale appeal of the lower court ruling was pending when the U.S. Supreme Court’s Obergefell v. Hodges decision in 2015 rendered the state-based suit moot by making same-sex marriage legal nationally.

Maples once commented that her efforts on behalf of gay rights were in honor of her daughter, who was a lesbian. Two years after the Obergefell decision, in 2017, she led the effort in Pavan v. Smith, in which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Arkansas statute that prohibited putting the name of the second parent of a same-sex marriage on the birth certificate of their child, a decision that built upon the fundamental rights recognized in Obergefell, while expanding the full meaning of marriage and family for same-sex couples all over the United States.

Her victory in Pavan came as her health was declining; she was sometimes almost too weak to stand up in court. She had suffered multiple heart attacks over the previous two decades.

Maples died on August 22, 2019, from congestive heart failure and is buried in Bluff Cemetery in Springdale (Washington and Benton counties).

For additional information:
Brantley, Max. “Cheryl Maples, Lawyer Advocate for Gay Rights, Dies at 69.” Arkansas Times, August 23, 2019. https://arktimes.com/arkansas-blog/2019/08/23/cheryl-maples-lawyer-advocate-for-gay-rights-dies-at-69 (accessed March 25, 2022).

DeMillo, Andrew (Associated Press). “Attorney Who Challenged Arkansas Gay Marriage Ban Dies.” Washington Times, August 23, 2019. https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2019/aug/23/attorney-who-challenged-arkansas-gay-marriage-ban-/ (accessed June 8, 2022).

Lockwood, Frank E. “Maples, 69, Dies, Was Advocate for Gay Rights.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, August 24, 2019, pp. 1B, 3B. Online at https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2019/aug/24/maples-69-dies-was-advocate-for-gay-rig/ (accessed June 8, 2022).

Obituary of Cheryl K. Maples. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, August 27, 2019, p. 3B.

William H. Pruden III
Ravenscroft School

Last Updated: 06/15/2022

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