Arkansas Loses High Court Fight Over Same-Sex Birth Certificates

The Pavan family. Photo courtesy of the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

(CN) – State officials in Arkansas can no longer refuse to list both same-sex parents on their child’s birth certificate, the Supreme Court ruled Monday in a decision that helps solidify legal protections extended by the court’s 2015 landmark ruling legalizing gay marriage.

“The Arkansas Supreme Court’s decision, we conclude, denied married same-sex couples access to the ‘constellation of benefits that the state has linked to marriage,’” the court’s majority wrote in the per curiam opinion.

The justices ruled in favor of three lesbian couples, who argued that the 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges essentially voided Arkansas statutes and regulations requiring that birth certificates only list the child’s biological parents. That landmark ruling was handed down exactly two years ago today.

Monday’s decision overturns a split December ruling by the Arkansas Supreme Court that allowed state officials to refuse to list both same-sex parents on birth certificates because “it does not violate equal protection to acknowledge basic biological truths.”

Under Arkansas law, the spouse of the birth mother is automatically listed on the birth certificate as the child’s parent, regardless of whether that spouse is genetically related to the child.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs say the Arkansas Department of Health unilaterally decided to omit their spouse’s name on the birth certificate.

The absent name complicates the parents’ ability to consent to emergency medical care, enroll children in school or recreational sports, travel abroad and generally care for their children, they argued.

The Supreme Court’s ruling states, “Arkansas has…chosen to make its birth certificates more than a mere marker of biological relationships: The State uses those certificates to give married parents a form of legal recognition that is not available to unmarried parents. Having made that choice, Arkansas may not, consistent with Obergefell, deny married same-sex couples that recognition.”

The Jacobs family. Photo courtesy of the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

“Arkansas is our home. We are rooted there. Our families are there,” said plaintiff Marisa Pavan. “Today’s decision guarantees that the family we love will be respected and protected in the home we love.”

Another plaintiff, Jana Jacobs, said, “Today’s decision gives me comfort that my growing family, and other Arkansas families, will receive the respect and protections we deserve.”

Douglas Hallward-Driemeier, a co-counsel in the case, said the ruling protects same-sex couples and their children from discrimination and strengthens the rule of law.

“Marriage equality is the law of the land, and this decision sends a clear message that states must follow the law and treat all married couples equally,” he said in a statement.

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge did not immediately comment on the ruling.

Conservative Justices Neil Gorsuch, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented, saying that nothing in the 2015 Obergefell ruling precluded the state from refusing to list both same-sex parents on birth certificates.

“It is very hard to see what is wrong with this conclusion for, just as the state court recognized, nothing in Obergefell indicates that a birth registration regime based on biology, one no doubt with many analogues across the country and throughout history, offends the Constitution,” Gorsuch wrote. “To the contrary, to the extent they speak to the question at all, this Court’s precedents suggest just the opposite conclusion.”

%d bloggers like this: