The Slatest

Arkansas Judge Orders State to Recognize Same-Sex Marriages Conducted in May 2014

Judge Wendell Griffen officiates a gay wedding ceremony in the Pulaski County Courthouse on May 12, 2014. James Paulus and Chris Shelton were among more than 500 gay couples to wed that week in Arkansas.

Photo by Michael Hibblen/KUAR News

An Arkansas judge has ordered the state to recognize more than 500 same-sex marriages conducted during a brief window in May 2014 after a ban on such unions was struck down but before the Arkansas Supreme Court stayed that decision. From the Associated Press:

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen validated marriage licenses that were issued to same-sex couples after another judge struck down the state’s gay marriage ban. The state Supreme Court halted the distribution of marriage licenses to gay couples after a week in May 2014 and is considering the appeal over a voter-approved same-sex marriage ban.

“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.

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, who has vowed to defend the ban on same-sex marraige, said in a statement that she is “evaluating the ruling” and that the marriages at issue “do not fall within the State’s definition of marriage as between one man and one woman.”

Griffen’s decision, which came in response to a lawsuit filed in February, compels the state to grant same-sex couples married during that window benefits reserved for legal spouses, such as inclusion on state employee health plans and the right to file joint state tax returns. It was not clear whether those benefits would be immediately available, as Rutledge has not indicated whether she will seek a stay on Griffen’s ruling pending the state Supreme Court’s decision on the fate of the ban.

Judge Griffen is no stranger to the marriage controversy in Arkansas, having personally officiated same-sex wedding ceremonies during the week that they were legal in 2014, but opponents of Tuesday’s ruling could have a hard time painting him as a liberal activist: Griffen is also a Baptist pastor who has argued that judges should be free to integrate their personal religious beliefs into legal rulings.

Writing in the Marquette University Law Review in 1998 under the title “The Case for Religious Values in Judicial Decision-Making,” Griffen denounced “the prevailing aversion to any influential role that [judges’] religious values might play” in deliberations, which he said “dehumanizes religiously devout judges… By listening to and debating the messages of religious values (along with other sources of moral knowledge) that can apply to judicial decision-making, we will increase the chances of reaching decisions that are just.”