On Tuesday, a federal judge ordered Arkansas to recognize 500 gay marriages that took place in May 2014 during a six-day period when same-sex couples could receive marriage licenses. The ruling effectively solidified their unions, whose status remained unknown after the state Supreme Court issued a stop on the marriages. The move marks a big win for LGBT rights, as the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to soon make its own ruling on whether gay marriage bans are unconstitutional.
The decision also grants same-sex married couples spousal rights such as joining their spouses' health insurance plans and filing joint taxes. The ruling also prevents Arkansas officials from infringing on those spousal rights. But keep in mind the state still bans gay marriage, and only those marriages that were issued licenses from May 10 to May 16 will be recognized.
Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen, one of several judges who officiated the contested marriages in Arkansas, handed down the ruling. In his decision, he wrote:
With shameless disrespect for fundamental fairness and equality, (the state) insists on treating the marriages of same-sex couples who received marriage licenses between May 9 and May 15 as "void as a matter of law."
Last May, Pulaski County Judge Chris Piazza found the state's gay marriage ban unconstitutional, effectively striking it down and raising hope that Arkansas would be the first Southern state to legalize same-sex marriage. For six glorious days, that was the case and gay marriage was technically legal in the state. Some county clerks began to issue marriage licenses to gay couples, but within a week, the state attorney general petitioned for a stop on the licenses, and the state Supreme Court backed that request by stopping their distribution.
Arkansas' ruling comes during the height of the same-sex marriage debate as the U.S. Supreme Court is set to determine within the month whether states' same-sex marriage bans are unconstitutional, which would effectively legalize gay marriage nationwide. Gay marriage is currently legal in Washington and 37 states.
The U.S. Supreme Court's decision is expect to be closely split among the nine justices' ideologies. Justice Anthony Kennedy could potentially represent the key swing vote, and his questions and comments have veered on both sides of the argument. While there have been some hints as to where their opinions lie and there are murmurs of a ruling in favor of gay marriage, we'll all still have to wait for the final word.
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