A judge ordered Arkansas officials on Tuesday to recognize more than 500 same-sex marriages performed in the state last year, a move that will let the couples enjoy a host of benefits such as filing taxes jointly and enrolling together in state health insurance plans.
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.
Some of the same-sex couples who married in Arkansas last year filed a lawsuit in February alleging that the state was violating their rights by not recognizing the unions. Griffen's ruling means the couples can file taxes jointly, appear jointly on a child's birth certificate, enroll together on state health insurance plans and even file for divorce.
Griffen was among a number of people who presided over same-sex marriage ceremonies in May 2014.
The ruling comes as the U.S. Supreme Court is nearing a decision on whether to legalize gay marriage nationwide. Judges across the country have ruled against bans similar to Arkansas' since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of a federal anti-gay marriage law in June 2013. Gay marriage is now legal in more than half of U.S. states.
The Arkansas Supreme Court hasn't indicated when it'll rule on gay marriage. Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza struck down as unconstitutional a 2004 voter-approved same-sex marriage ban and an earlier state law defining marriage as between a man and a woman. Justices suspended his decision a week later, halting the marriages.
Justices last month denied the state's request for new oral arguments in the case, and also declined to lift their stay on Piazza's decision.