Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Arkansas in Marriage Equality News Again: Judge Wendell Griffen Orders State to Recognize Validity of Same-Sex Marriages That Occurred in May 2014

As Chris Morley pointed out in a comment here last evening, yesterday Pulaski County, Arkansas, Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen handed down a ruling that instructs the state of Arkansas to recognize the legality of same-sex marriages performed last May in the brief window of opportunity for such marriages, before the state Supremes slammed that window shut. To their shame, the honorable justices of the Arkansas Supreme Court have, since that time, remained totally silent about their stay on same-sex marriage, leaving all of us who married in May 2014 in a legal limbo.

Max Brantley reports on Judge Griffen's ruling yesterday at Arkansas Times. His posting about the ruling also points to the text of Judge Griffen's judicial decision, which is here. As Max's report indicates, what has been at stake for plaintiffs who filed suit to challenge the state's refusal to recognize the legality of the same-sex marriages performed last May is 1) the state's prohibition against our filing joint income-tax returns; and 2) the blocking of access to healthcare benefits for those of us whose spouse is a state employee.

In addition, couples who married last May and have children have, in some instances, not been permitted to list both spouses as the legal parents of their child or children. And in the case of our friend Allan Cox, whom I have discussed in several postings here, the state has prevented a surviving spouse from receiving Social Security benefits from his legally married and now deceased husband.

I mentioned Allan and his husband Steve Thomas when I posted here about Steve's and my marriage on 12 May 2014. As my posting notes, Steve and Allan married on 12 May, too, and my Steve and I were the witnesses to their marriage, as they were for ours. Judge Griffen, who's a Baptist pastor as well as a judge, officiated at both marriages. And in a subsequent posting, I posted a photo of my Steve hugging Allan and Steve immediately after their marriage. Before the four of us married in 12 May, I posted a statement Steve Thomas made on his Facebook page about his and Allan's attempt a day or so earlier to marry in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, when the opportunity for gay couples to marry first opened.

And then, as I told you last November, our friend Steve Thomas died. As my statement about Steve's death says,

As my friend Steve Thomas dies, his marriage in May to Allan Cox is not recognized by the state of Arkansas. This leaves Allan in a situation in which no surviving spouse should ever be left.

As yesterday's legal ruling suggests, my fears for what would happen to Allan after Steve died were not in the least groundless. He was prevented from receiving benefits (including burial assistance benefits) available to other legally married couples — prevented from this by state officials citing state law defining marriage as exclusively between a male and a female, though the constitutionality of that law was called into question last May when Judge Chris Piazza struck down the ban on same-sex marriage in Arkansas as unconstitutional.

Judge Griffen's ruling certainly also affects my Steve and me in the most direct way possible. Though Steve and I were legally married on 12 May 2014, and have the documents to show it, the state of Arkansas will not permit us to file joint income tax returns — though the federal government does so, and for the first time in 44 years together, this year we were able to reap the financial benefits of other married couples on our federal income tax filings. Nor has Steve been allowed to carry me on his health insurance plan, as a state employee.

The latter refusal on the part of the state affects us in an important way, because, while the state's Supreme Court continues to leave couples who married last May in legal limbo, I have turned 65 and become eligible for Medicare. June is the last month in which I have a window to make choices about the kind of Medicare coverage I want to receive.

Because my spouse is a state employee, one option would be for me to choose a Medicare plan that includes my spouse's plan. Until we have legal clarity about this matter, however, we cannot make that choice, and so we have to negotiate the already complex channels of Medicare choices with that choice — which is open to other legally married couples — off the table in our case.

Prejudice and discrimination have real effects on real people and their real lives. That so much of the prejudice and discrimination enacted on real gay human beings and their real lives in the U.S. stems from people who call themselves followers of Jesus Christ is mind-boggling. This does not reflect well, to say the least, on the Christian brand in the 21st century. And it's why people, especially young ones, are leaving the Christian churches in droves in the U.S.

The news clip at the head of the posting featuring Allan Cox-Thomas is from the NBC station KARK in Little Rock.

No comments: