LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas officials must recognize the validity of more than 500 same-sex marriages that were performed in Arkansas last year, a Pulaski County circuit judge ruled Tuesday.

LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas officials must recognize the validity of more than 500 same-sex marriages that were performed in Arkansas last year, a Pulaski County circuit judge ruled Tuesday.


The couples obtained marriage licenses in the state in the days immediately following Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza’s May 9, 2014, ruling that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. The state Supreme Court stayed the ruling a week after Piazza issued it and has not yet ruled in an appeal by the state attorney general’s office.


Two of the same-sex couples who were married last year, Angelia and Katherine Henson and Markett Humphries and Dianna Christy, and Allan Cox, who was married last year and whose spouse later died, sued the state Department of Finance and Administration, seeking a ruling to require the agency to recognize their marriages.


The two couples wanted to be able to file joint tax returns, and Humphries wanted to be able to add Christy to her state health insurance plan. Cox wanted to be eligible for spousal death benefits.


On Tuesday, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen issued an order requiring DF&A Director Larry Walther to "extend to same-sex couples the same rights, privileges and benefits recognized for heterosexual marriages performed during those dates."


Lawyers with the attorney general’s office had argued that when Piazza issued his May 9 ruling, he declared Arkansas’ constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman to be unconstitutional, but he did not strike down a state statute that barred county clerks from issuing marriage licenses to gay couples.


Piazza followed his initial ruling with a May 15 order clarifying that the statute also was unconstitutional, but the state argued that Piazza lacked authority to change his ruling retroactively.


In his order Tuesday, Griffen rejected that argument. He noted that Rule 60 of the Arkansas Rules of Civil Procedure allows a trial court to modify a judgment, decree or order "at any time" to correct "clerical mistakes … and errors therein arising from oversight or omission."


To argue that Piazza intended to declare the same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional but did not intend to allow same-sex couples to obtain marriage licenses is "absurd," Griffen wrote.


Griffen also called Piazza’s ruling "courageous" and quoted from a 76-year-old U.S. Supreme Court opinion written by Justice Hugo Black that reversed the capital murder convictions of four black men in the death of a white man in Florida:


"Courts … stand as havens or refuge for those who might otherwise suffer because they are helpless, weak, outnumbered or … non-conforming victims of prejudice and public excitement."


Cheryl Maples, attorney for the plaintiffs, said Tuesday she was "thrilled" with the ruling. She said the same-sex couples who wed in the state last year have been "living in limbo."


"This was a wonderful step, and this allows a lot of very dear people that I know to not have to worry about, ‘Am I married? Am I not?’" Maples said. "Now they can get their spouses on their health insurance; that cannot be denied to them. Now they can refile their taxes and file as married, since the state of Arkansas had refused to allow them to do so."


Humphries of Jacksonville said she and Christy were "ecstatic" about the ruling.


"When we first got it, we could do nothing but jump for joy," she said. "It means not only good news for us but more than 500 other couples."


Humphries said she and Christy married last year but discovered this year that the state would not allow Humphries to add Christy to her state health insurance and would not allow the couple to file a tax return as a married couple. She said they plan to refile their taxes for 2014 as a couple.


Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said Tuesday in a statement issued by her office, "These marriages do not fall within the state’s definition of marriage as between one man and one woman. I am evaluating the ruling and will determine the best path forward to protect the state’s interest."


Maples said that since the ruling affects only a little more than 500 couples, and since rulings on whether gay marriage should be legal for all are expected from both the state and federal Supreme Courts, she would be surprised if Rutledge appealed Griffin’s ruling.


"I can’t imagine anybody being so free with taxpayers’ money as to do that," she said.