Arkansas Judge Finds Arkansas Same-Sex Marriage Bans Unconstitutional; State Asks For Stay Pending Appeal

The State of Arkansas is appealing a May 9, 2014 decision of Circuit Court Judge Christopher Charles Piazza that if not overturned, makes Arkansas the latest state forced to recognize same-sex marriage.  Like the growing list of other jurisdictions that recently have recognized same-sex couples as entitled to legally protections of marriage or enacted domestic partnership laws, employers and employee benefit plan administrators should take note of the decision for purposes of administering their employment and employee benefit plan responsibilities with respect to same-sex couples in Arkansas.

In his May 9, 2014 order in Wright v. State of Arkansas, Judge Piazza ruled that the ban by Arkansas of same-sex marriages and its refusal to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states violate the due process clause.   The Wright plaintiffs included 12 same-sex couples seeking to marry in Arkansas and 8 same sex couples seeking to have Arkansas recognize their marriages despite two Arkansas laws expressly prohibiting recognition of same-sex marriages:

  • Act 144 of 1997 of the Arkansas General Assembly, codified at Ark. Code Ann. Section 9-11-107 and 9-11-109, which states “marriage shall only ben between a man and a woman.  A marriage between persons of the same-sex is void” and that a marriage which would be valid by the laws of the state  entered into by a persons of the same-sex is void in Arkansas; and
  • Amendment 83 passed by Arkansas voters in 1994, which provides “marriage consists of only the union of one man and one woman” and that “Legal status for unmarried persons which is identical or substantially similar to marital status shall not be valid or recognized in Arkansas, except that the legislature may recognize a common law marriage from another state between a man and a woman.”

Citing among other things to the Supreme Court’s recent decision striking down the Defense of Marriage Act  (DOMA) in United States v. Windsor, 570 U.S. __, 133 S.Ct. 2675 (2013), Judge Piazza ruled both laws violated the equal protection clause of the United States Constitution and therefore were void.

The State of Arkansas filed an immediate appeal to the ruling and has asked for a stay pending appeal.

In Windsor, the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional  the prohibition enacted by Congress, which prohibited the federal government from recognizing marriages or domestic partnerships between same-sex couples that were valid under state law for purposes of federal tax laws. Since then, the Internal Revenue Service and other federal agencies generally have moved quickly to treat same-sex couples entering into valid marriages or domestic partnerships under state law.  As a result of the Internal Revenue Service’s implementation of changes required by this decision, many employee benefit plans and their sponsoring employers now face the need to review and update the tax treatment and other plan terms and policies regarding the treatment of same-sex partnerships.  Meanwhile, many employers also need to update family medical leave and other employment policies to respond to Labor Department regulatory and enforcement changes, which call for employers to recognize certain domestic partnerships or same-sex marriages that are valid in the state performed as marriages for purposes of leave and other laws.

 About the Author

Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, management attorney and consultant Ms. Stamer has more than 23 years experience working with employers, professional employment organizations, employee benefit plan sponsors and administrators and others on a wide range of labor and employment, employee benefits, and other management matters.  The Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Committee, a Council Representative on the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, Government Affairs Committee Legislative Chair for the Dallas Human Resources Management Association, the editor of Solutions Law Press HR & Benefits Update and, Ms. Stamer also is recognized for her publications, industry leadership, workshops and presentations on these and other health industry and human resources concerns. She regularly speaks and conducts training for the ABA, Institute of Internal Auditors, Society for Professional Benefits Administrators, Southwest Benefits Association and many other organizations.  Publishers of her many highly regarded writings on health industry and human resources matters include the Bureau of National Affairs, Aspen Publishers, ABA, AHLA, Aspen Publishers, Schneider Publications, Spencer Publications, World At Work, SHRM, HCCA, State Bar of Texas, Business Insurance, James Publishing and many others.  You can review other highlights of Ms. Stamer’s experience here.

If you need help with human resources or other management, concerns, wish to ask about compliance, risk management or training, or need legal representation on other matters please contact Cynthia Marcotte Stamer here or (469)767-8872.

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©2014 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. All rights reserved.

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