Judge Wendell Griffen today ruled that the state Finance and Administration Department must allow same-sex couples married during the week following Judge Chris Piazza’s ruling May 9 to file income taxes as a married couple and allow the spouses of state employees to be given health insurance coverage equal to that given other spouses.
Griffen rejected the state’s argument that Piazza’s initial order striking down the ban hadn’t included an injunction and a subsequent order he issued to clarifiy his intent to issue an injunction wasn’t permissible by the rules. Griffen said DFA director Larry Walther’s argument was a “mainfestly inaccurate and tortured mis-interpretation” of the rules of civil procedure.
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Griffen said Piazza’s corrective order May 15 was issued to prevent the miscarriage of justice and to correct errors from oversight. He said it was plain Piazza’s original order May 9 had been intended to give full rights to same-sex couples.
“Accordingly, the Court hereby declares that the refusal of Director Walther to recognize the marriages of plaintiffs and the same-sex couples who were married between May 10 and May 16, 2014, as valid and to accord those marriages with all benefits, rights and privileges extended to heterosexual marriages that were licensed during that time span violates the plaintiffs’ righs to due process of law and equal protection of the law …”
Griffen order Walter to stop denying the validity of plaintiffs status as married persons; enjoined him from preventing the filing of joint tax returns and enjoined him from refusing to enroll in insurance those married to state employees
He ordered Walther to accept joint tax returns and health insurance applications from all same-sex copuples married between May 10 and May 16, when the state Supreme Court stayed Piazza’s ruling.
I’ve sought comment from the attorney general’s office. I expect an appeal and a motion that Judge Griffen’s order be stayed pending the appeal of the foundational ruling by Piazza on same-sex marriage, which Griffen did not address in his ruling. Griffen called Piazza’s ruling “courageous,” however.
UPDATE: Her office’s statement:
“These marriages do not fall within the State’s definition of marriage as between one man and one woman,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “I am evaluating the ruling and will determine the best path forward to protect the State’s interest.”
The plaintiffs, represented by Cheryl Maples, are Angelia Frazier-Henson and Katherine Henson and Markett Humphries and Diana Christy. Other defendants who challenged Social Security determinations were dismissed from the case because that part of the argument wasn’t completed. Maples exulted on
Facebook: “We WON!!!!! The “window marriages” have been declared valid!!!!!”
Some 500 couples were married in the week before the Arkansas Supreme Court put a halt to continued issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples. State appeals of of Piazza’s ruling have been pending in state and federal appeals courts since Nov. 20. A federal district court also struck down the ban. The 8th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has said it intends to wait for a U.S. Supreme Court ruling expected this month before ruling on the case. The Arkansas Supreme Court has never explained its long delay on the case, which was heard on an expedited basis. The justices hearing the case have changed, however. And however the U.S. Supreme Court rules, the state Supreme Court must make decisions based on the Arkansas Constitution, conceivably even invalidating the ban on that basis even if the U.S. Supreme Court takes a different tack.
This ruling has narrow application to those married in the “window.”. But the broader arguments — particularly for people in Arkansas with valid marriage licenses from other states — are obvious. Those with valid marriage licenses should be accorded the rights of all married couples. Those claims are outlined in the pending appeals.
Judge Griffen, also a Baptist pastor, performed weddings during the marriage window last year.
The Stonewall Democratic Caucus cheered. Said President Tippi McCullough in a statement:
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.