- Associated Press - Friday, June 26, 2015

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Friday that same-sex couples have a right to marry in all 50 states. What that means in Arkansas, where a same-sex marriage ban was still in place:

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Q: Is the process the same for all couples?

A: Yes. Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Attorney General Leslie Rutledge have said that clerks should give marriage licenses to same-sex couples in the same manner as they would an opposite-sex couple. Judges and justices of the peace can officiate, as well as clergy who do not have religious objections.

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Q: What changes for same-sex couples?

A: Hutchinson on Friday directed all state agencies to grant same-sex couples the same benefits given to married couples of opposite gender. Same-sex couples can file taxes jointly (which at times can lower tax obligations), receive tax breaks on selling their homes, qualify for full medical insurance benefits from government employers (and without having to wait for the next open-enrollment period), amend birth certificates for biological children without obtaining a court order and file for divorce should the need arise.

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Q: Will clergy members be forced to perform ceremonies for same-sex couples?

A: No. Members of the clergy are not mandated to perform same-sex marriages or won’t be required to let gay couples use their facilities. However, some denominations allow their clergy to decide for themselves while other denominations do not.

After Friday’s ruling, religious leaders reacted differently: Baptist groups and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said they will continue to prohibit ceremonies by their clergy and on their grounds. The United Methodists of Arkansas said the same, but gave its clergy permission to help same-sex couples find other venues and offer pre-marital counseling. The Presbyterian church said last year individual pastors could decide for themselves.

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Q: What doesn’t change in Arkansas?

A: The ruling did not make sexual preference a protected class in Arkansas. The state’s civil rights law offers protection from discrimination based on race, religion, national origin, gender or physical or mental disability.

The ruling also does not negate Arkansas’ religious objections law passed this year that says government “shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion” without a “compelling governmental interest” - and that doing so requires the least restrictive way possible. The law, which is modeled after the 1993 federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, aims to enhance legal protections for people who decline to follow a law for religious reasons.

Rutledge said religious institutions and private individuals and companies are not covered by the ruling. For example, a corporation would not be compelled to offer spousal benefits to a married same-sex couple. Also, a wedding photographer, who had a strong religious belief, could not be compelled to take photos at a same-sex wedding.

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