Judge: Arkansas Must Recognize In-State Same-Sex Marriages

Jun 9, 2015

  

Judge Wendell Griffen officiates a gay wedding ceremony in the Pulaski County Courthouse on May 12, 2014. James Paulus and Chris Shelton were among more than 500 gay couples to wed that week in Arkansas.
Credit Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

A judge is ordering Arkansas officials to recognize over 500 same-sex marriages performed in the state last year. It’s a move that would let the couples enjoy benefits that heterosexual couples can share.

In a written opinion, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell validated the marriage licenses that were issued during a one week period in May 2014 after another judge struck down the state's gay marriage ban. You can read Griffen's full opinion here.

This latest case was brought by two of the couples who were wed, but then denied the ability to jointly file their tax returns. One of the couples also objected that one person couldn’t sign up for their spouses’ health insurance policy.

Griffen's ruling means the couples would be allow to file taxes jointly, enroll together on state health insurance plans, as well as appear jointly on a child's birth certificate or even file for divorce.

The state may appeal Griffen's ruling. Late Tuesday afternoon, Attorney General Leslie Rutledge released a statement that said:

These marriages do not fall within the State’s definition of marriage as between one man and one woman. I am evaluating the ruling and will determine the best path forward to protect the State’s interest.

Judge Griffen was among those who presided over same-sex marriages last year at the Pulaski County Courthouse.

Meanwhile the key case that allowed weddings to take place is on appeal to the Arkansas Supreme Court. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to eventually make a ruling on a separate case that would impact Arkansas other states with similar challenges. 

In a statement, Tippi McCullough, who was fired from her job as an English teacher at Little Rock's Mount St. Mary Academy after marrying her partner in New Mexico in 2013, applauded the judge for his action.

The Arkansas Stonewall Democratic Caucus of Arkansas praises the decision today by Judge Wendell Griffen to allow all same sex marriages performed in May of 2014 after Judge Chris Piazza's ruling to be duly recognized by the state of Arkansas as legal. We are thrilled that the court recognizes that all of these couples should enjoy the privileges offered to any citizens who marry legally in Arkansas such as filing joint state income taxes and the ability to be added to state insurance as a married couple. Congratulations to the plaintiffs Angela Frazier Henson, Katherine Henson, Markett Humphries and Diana Christy along with attorney Cheryl Maples, and all the couples who were married in that wonderful window from May 10th - 16th. A special thank you to Judge Griffen for a prompt well-written ruling.