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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 12, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 24
Arkansas must recognize 500 same-sex marriages, judge says
Section One
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Arkansas must recognize 500 same-sex marriages, judge says

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

An Arkansas state judge has ruled that more than 500 Gay and Lesbian couples were legally married in the state and state officials must recognize the marriages.

The couples were married in Arkansas between May 9, 2014, when Arkansas Circuit Judge Chris Piazza struck down the state's ban on same-sex marriages, and May 15, 2014, when the judge's ruling was stayed pending a decision by the Arkansas Supreme Court.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen ruled on June 9 that marriage licenses issued to more than 500 same-sex couples were valid and said the marriages must be recognized.

'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,' Griffen wrote in his ruling.

The Arkansas attorney general's office argued that the marriages are not valid because Piazza's original ruling didn't specifically strike down a state law barring clerks from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Piazza struck down that law in a subsequent ruling six days later.

Griffen rejected the state's argument, saying it was clear that Piazza meant to strike down any prohibition on same-sex marriage.

'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,' Griffen wrote.

Some of the same-sex couples who married in Arkansas last year sued in February, charging that the state was violating their rights by not recognizing their unions. Griffen's ruling means the couples can file taxes jointly, appear jointly on a child's birth certificate, enroll together on state health insurance plans, and even file for divorce.

Cheryl Maples, an attorney for two of the couples who sued the state over the licenses, said 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.'

The Arkansas Supreme Court hasn't indicated when it will rule on Gay marriage. Justices last month denied the state's request for new oral arguments in the case and declined to lift their stay on Piazza's decision.

In 2004 Arkansas voters approved an outright ban on same-sex marriage. Both that ban and an earlier state law defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman were struck down by Piazza's ruling.

Judge Griffen was among a number of people who presided over the same-sex marriage ceremonies in May 2014.

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