Officials in Arkansas have been ordered by a state judge to recognize same-sex marriages created during the short time it was legal to do so last year. This decision means that same-sex couples in the state would have the same rights as other married couples.
According to Leah Uko of KARK, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffin ordered the state on Tuesday to recognize more than 500 marriages performed back in May 2014. Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge expressed disagreement with Griffin's ruling.
"These marriages do not fall within the State's definition of marriage as between one man and one woman," Rutledge said in a statement. "I am evaluating the ruling and will determine the best path forward to protect the State's interest."
Uko reported that although same-sex marriages are currently banned in Arkansas, the couples who married when it was legal now qualified for various benefits such as joint tax filing and enrolling in state health insurance plans. Previously, the Arkansas Supreme Court halted all gay marriages.
"The hundreds of gay couples that married between May 10-16 did not have the rights of other married couples such as jointly appearing on a child's birth certificate," Uko wrote in regards to the effects of that court ruling.
However, Uko reported that supporters of same-sex marriage are waiting to hear how both the state's high court and the U.S. Supreme Court would rule on the possible legalization of the practice.
"A vote from the federal court was expected to be made by the last Monday of June," Uko wrote.
According to Andrew DeMillo of the Associated Press, Griffin justified his ruling on validating the marriage licenses of same-sex couples in Arkansas.
"With shameless disrespect for fundamental fairness and equality, (Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration Director Larry Walther) insists on treating the marriages of same-sex couples who received marriage licenses between May 9 and May 15 as 'void from inception as a matter of law,'" Griffin wrote.
Cheryl Maples, an attorney representing the two couples who sued the state over the licenses, told the Associated Press that she was thrilled with the decision.
"They finally got some major progress they've been waiting so long for," Maples said. "They've been married over a year now and as of right now they're really married."
DeMillo elaborated on the legal background that led to the decision from Griffin.
"Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza struck down as unconstitutional a 2004 voter-approved same-sex marriage ban and an earlier state law defining marriage as between a man and a woman," DeMillo wrote. "Justices suspended his decision a week later, halting the marriages."
According to DeMillo, the attorney general's office argued that the same-sex marriages weren't valid because Piazza did not strike down a state law banning clerks from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in his initial ruling. However, Griffin rejected that argument, noting that it was clear Piazza wanted to strike down any prohibitions on the practice.
"Put simply, Judge Piazza's intent in his May 9 order was to stop the state of Arkansas from prohibiting same-sex couples from being married," Griffin wrote.
The Associated Press reported that same-sex marriage in Arkansas is currently illegal thanks to a voter-approved ban.