LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - The marital status for many gay couples in Arkansas remained in limbo Thursday after the state's high court handed down orders that could delay a decision on same-sex marriage until after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
A Pulaski County judge rejected the gay-marriage ban last year and more than 500 same-sex couples obtained marriage licenses before a stay was issued. State lawyers appealed and justices heard oral arguments in November.
In its unsigned orders Thursday, the Arkansas State Court refused to lift the year-old stay and said it won't hear new arguments, even though two of the seven justices joined after the court heard those oral arguments.
The decision means existing roadblocks preventing a ruling in the same-sex marriage case have been cleared.
"The Attorney General will continue to vigorously defend the constitutionality of state law defining marriage as between one man and one woman," said Judd Deere, a spokesman for Attorney General Leslie Rutledge. "Now that this important case is ripe for a decision, the Attorney General looks forward to the court's final ruling."
Separately, a federal judge rejected the ban last December. A federal appeals court has delayed action in that case until the U.S. Supreme Court resolves a separate case this summer.
Cheryl Maples, an attorney for the couples challenging the ban, said she was pleased the court rejected the effort for new oral arguments. Maples said a new hearing before the court would have been a "waste of time," since the arguments have already been made in briefs and since justices could watch last year's oral arguments on video.
Maples said she was uncertain whether the move meant the court would rule quickly on the gay marriage ban.
"Based upon everything else, I'm scared that what this is them just clearing up the pending motions and kind of doing some housekeeping and they're still going to wait for the U.S. Supreme Court to rule," Maples said. "I hope I'm wrong."
Maples said she wasn't surprised the court decided to keep its stay in place.
"Regardless of what happens, we're within a month of the Supreme Court of the United States ruling," Maples said. "It is a delay of a month of people having rights, but I feel certain we will have the freedom for same sex marriages within the next 30 days."
Thomas Baldwin, who was married to his partner May 12 in Pulaski County, was similarly optimistic about the high court's upcoming decision. He said the court's decision to not lift the stay is disappointing because the legal limbo has been a huge inconvenience for him and his husband.
Baldwin said they weren't able to file all of their taxes together and that his husband hasn't been able to take his last name or get on his health insurance. He said it also has slowed the adoption process.
"There's nothing equal about it," Baldwin said. "We have to jump through hoops to get everything done. It's very frustrating."
He said he is disappointed in how the Arkansas justices have handled the case.
"They're just kicking the can down the road," Baldwin said. "I honestly don't care what the state does anymore because the (U.S.) Supreme Court is going to rule in a month."