COUNTDOWN TO EQUALITY

Is The Pro-Marriage Ruling In Arkansas The Last A State Court Will Ever Have To Make?

Paul Katami (R) shares a kiss after proposing marriage to Jeff Zarrillo (L) as the two plaintiffs in the case against California's gay marriage ban known as Prop 8 address reporters outside the Supreme Court in Washington, June 26, 2013. On Wednesday the Supreme Court handed a significant victory to gay rights advocates by recognizing that married gay men and women are eligible for federal benefits and paving the way for same-sex marriage in California.  REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst    (UNITED STATES - Tags: SOCIETY POLITICS LAW) - RTX111Y5

It’s pretty familiar by now: A judge rules that a state cannot arbitrarily refuse to recognize same-sex married couples and delivers a stinging rebuke in the process. Today’s case comes in Arkansas. In addition to being the latest favorable ruling for gay couples, it may be the last if the Supreme Court finally recognizes marriage equality as a constitutional right.

At issue was the status of those couples married during a brief window last May. The state Supreme Court ruled in favor of the couples, but left in place a law that prohibiting clerks from issuing marriage licenses. The couples were in limbo, since the state refused to acknowledge that they were legally hitched.

That did not sit well with Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen. In his ruling, he took the state and its chief representative in the case to task for homophobia.

“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.

All of which is good news for the 450 or so couples who were able to marry last year. But the Arkansas ruling may soon be a footnote in history as the last legal decision regarding marriage equality. If the Supreme Court opts for the right side of history, couples would have to be recognized no matter where they were married. Even if the Court somehow decides to punt on full national marriage equality, it will still have to settle the question of recognizing marriages performed in other states.

In the meantime, Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, is mulling over an appeal. But even he sounds like he’s throwing in the towel. “I am evaluating the ruling and will determine the best path forward to protect the state’s interest,” he said.

In other words, why bother?