Arkansas judge, ignoring state high court's power, rules same-sex marriages legal

by Gregory Tomlin |

(REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson)Equality t-shirts are seen on sale at the International Gay Rodeo Association's "Rodeo in the Rock" in Little Rock, Ark., April 24, 2015. Contestants at the International Gay Rodeo in Arkansas, a Bible Belt state with a same-sex marriage ban on its books, competed in events from barrel racing to bull riding. An Arkansas judge ruled June 9 that marriages conducted in a four-day window in 2014, before the state's Supreme Court halted the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples, were legal and valid. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule in June whether to strike down bans on gay marriage nationwide. Arkansas has been one of the front-line states in the battle between cultural conservatives and those seeking expanded rights for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (Christian Examiner) – A county judge in Arkansas ruled June 9 more than 500 same-sex marriages that took place in the state during a four-day period in 2014 are legal and valid.

In so doing, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen – who said the same-sex couples can now file joint tax returns and receive state health benefits – circumvented an injunction imposed by the state's high court last year.

In May 2014, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza ruled the state's 2004 constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.

Four days later, after the 500 marriage licenses had been issued to gay couples, the Arkansas Supreme Court stepped in and halted the issuance of further licenses, calling into question whether or not the licenses already issued were valid.

The high court offered little explanation, but agreed with the request to suspend Piazza's decision filed by state Attorney General Dustin McDaniel and four counties.

On Tuesday, however, Griffen cited a U.S. Supreme Court case from 1940 claiming the courts "stand as havens of refuge for those who might otherwise suffer because they are helpless, weak, outnumbered or ... non-conforming victims of prejudice and public excitement."

That case, Chambers v. Florida, reversed the conviction of four black men for the murder of an elderly white man and had nothing to do with gay rights.

Still, Griffen saw race and sexual orientation as analogous when he wrote the state's refusal to honor the marriage licenses showed "shameless disrespect for fundamental fairness and equality."

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide later in June if all 50 states must recognize same-sex marriage. According to Reuters, critics of the state's high court claim its justices are delaying a ruling on same-sex marriage, hoping the verdict of federal Supreme Court justices will solve the matter for them.