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Judge Orders Arkansas to Honor Hundreds of Same-Sex Marriages

A judge ordered Arkansas officials Tuesday to recognize the marriages of more than 500 same-sex couples who wed during the week in May 2014 before such nuptials were stopped while the controversial issue works its way through the courts.

State Circuit Judge Wendell Lee Griffen's ruling in Little Rock was based on legal procedure issues, not on the underlying question of whether same-sex marriage is legal. But Griffen made it clear in his ruling that he sided with advocates of same-sex marriage.

Image: Dianna Christy,  Markett Humphries
In this photo taken June 8, 2015, same-sex couple Dianna Christy, left, and Markett Humphries leave a courtroom at the Pulaski County Courthouse in Little Rock, Ark. Danny Johnston / AP

Under Griffen's ruling, couples who raced to the courthouses in three counties last year must be recognized as married — and allowed to file joint tax returns, and state employees among them must be allowed to add their spouses to their state health insurance plans.

From May 10 to May 16, 2014, same-sex marriage was legal in Carroll, Pulaski and Washington counties after another state circuit judge struck down Arkansas' ban as unconstitutional. By the time a stay was issued a week later, more than 500 couples had been wed.

The underlying case is still pending before the state Supreme Court, which hasn't said when it will rule.

Image: Steven Gibson and Mark Hightower kiss after their marriage ceremony at the Pulaski County Courthouse in Little Rock
Steven Gibson and Mark Hightower were among hundreds of same-sex couples who married during a one-week window in May 2014 when such marriages were legal in Arkansas. JACOB SLATON / Reuters — file

Cheryl Maples, an attorney for the two couples in the case decided Tuesday — Angelia Frazier Henson and Katherine Henson, and Markett Humphries and Dianna Cristy — argued that the state Finance Department was wrong not to accept the couples' joint tax returns because the original ruling had been stayed.

Griffen agreed, saying the state's refusal to honor the weddings showed "shameless disrespect for fundamental fairness and equality." He called the original ruling legalizing them "courageous" and "well-reasoned."

In a statement, the activist group Freedom to Marry congratulated the couples who married in May 2014 for "getting the respect they deserve."