Rutledge Issues Guidance Following the Supreme Court’s Decision in Obergefell v. Hodges
June 26, 2015
LITTLE ROCK - Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge today released the following memo to State and local officials to offer guidance in regards to the same-sex marriage ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court.
To: State and local officials of the State of Arkansas
From: Attorney General Leslie Rutledge
Date: June 26, 2015
Re: Obergefell, James, et al. v. Hodges, Richard, et al.
The purpose of this memorandum is to advise officials of the State of Arkansas and government officials of Arkansas counties, Arkansas municipalities, and others regarding the same-sex marriage ruling today by the United States Supreme Court in Obergefell, James, et al. v. Hodges, Richard, et al. (U.S. Supreme Court No. 14-556, June 26, 2015).
At the outset, it should be noted that the U.S. Supreme Court directive applies only to government agencies and officials, and civil marriage recognized by the government and does not compel religious institutions or clergy to recognize same-sex marriage. The opinion specifically notes that “[t]he First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered. ” Id., slip opinion at *27.
The fundamental governing principle to ensure compliance by government officials and government entities with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling is: same-sex couples should be treated exactly the same as opposite-sex couples in matters regarding civil marriage and the attendant rights, benefits, and obligations of civil marriage. State and local officials must immediately recognize the validity of same-sex marriage licenses issued by Arkansas and same-sex marriage licenses issued by other states, just as state and local officials recognize the validity of opposite-sex marriage licenses issued by Arkansas and other states. Arkansas officials should recognize the validity of same-sex marriage licenses issued in other states both before and after the Supreme Court ruling.
Arkansas county clerks should issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples upon request, requiring exactly the same procedures, fees, and other requirements as required for opposite-sex couples. Government agencies which provide privileges and benefits to married couples or spouses of married individuals should provide the same privileges and benefits to married same-sex couples and same-sex spouses of married individuals. For example, the state tax authorities should allow same-sex married couples to submit joint tax returns if those couples choose to do so, and should treat them exactly the same as opposite-sex couples who submit joint tax returns. Government employers that allow spouses of married employees to enroll in employee benefits programs such as health insurance should allow same-sex spouses of employees to enroll in employee benefits programs, exactly as they allow opposite-sex spouses of employees to enroll in employee benefits programs.
Again, the Supreme Court decision applies only to government entities, and civil marriage recognized by States and government and does not compel religious institutions, clergy, or private individuals to recognize same-sex marriage.