On the two year anniversary of marriage equality decision, Supreme Court reverses Arkansas' attempt to defy Obergefell
Arkansas couples challenged Arkansas' "blatant refusal" to list same-sex spouses on their children's birth certificates
(San Francisco, CA, June 26, 2017)-Today, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the Arkansas Supreme Court's decision in Pavan v. Smith which denied same-sex married couples' right to be named on their children's birth certificates just as other married parents are. The Arkansas decision caused these families serious harms, complicating parents' ability to consent to emergency medical care, enroll children in school or recreational sports, travel abroad, and generally care for their children. By treating these families differently the decision also subjected them to official stigma and bias, sending a message that they are unworthy of equal recognition by the state. The families in this case were represented by the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), Arkansas attorney Cheryl Maples, and Ropes & Gray LLP.
In a decisive victory for these families, the Supreme Court summarily reversed the Arkansas Supreme Court decision without requiring oral argument or additional briefing. The Court said: "The Arkansas Supreme Court's decision, we conclude, denied married same-sex couples access to the 'constellation of benefits that the Stat[e] ha[s] linked to marriage.'"
"We are grateful to the Court for sending a clear message that it will not tolerate attempts to flout the Court's clear holding in Obergefell that married same-sex couples must be given the full panoply of protections tied to marriage under state law," said NCLR Family Law Director Catherine Sakimura. "Today's decision means that millions of married same-sex couples across the country can breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that this type of blatant discrimination against their families will not stand. Marriage equality is settled law and protects same-sex parents and their children from discrimination. Arkansas' blatant refusal to follow Obergefell could not stand."
In Pavan, married couple Marisa and Terrah Pavan, like many couples, used an anonymous sperm donor to conceive their child. And in 2015, the Pavan Family gave birth to their daughter in their home state of Arkansas. At the hospital, the Pavans completed an application for their child's birth certificate, listing both spouses as parents. But the Arkansas Department of Health unilaterally decided to omit Marisa's name on the birth certificate, listing Terrah as the only parent. The state treated these married parents' marriage as though it did not exist.
Another Arkansas married couple, Leigh and Jana Jacobs, experienced the same type of discrimination when Leigh gave birth to their son in 2015. They were issued an Arkansas birth certificate naming only Leigh as a parent despite listing both parents on the application.
"Today's Supreme Court decision protects same-sex married couples and their children from discrimination and strengthens the rule of law," said Douglas Hallward-Driemeier, partner at Ropes & Gray LLP and co-counsel in the case with NCLR. "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."
Under Arkansas law, when a married couple has a child, the spouse of the birth mother is automatically listed on the birth certificate as the child's parent, regardless of how the couple conceived the child or whether the spouse is genetically related to the child. Both the Pavan and Jacobs families were denied this right. Today's ruling reiterates that Obergefell requires different-sex and same-sex married couples to be treated equally under the law. The ruling comes on the two-year anniversary of the Court's June 26, 2015 decision in Obergefell.
"Arkansas is our home. We are rooted there. Our families are there. Today's decision guarantees that the family we love will be respected and protected in the home we love," said plaintiff Marisa Pavan.
"My wife, Leigh, and I just welcomed our new baby daughter, Willa Fern, into the world," said plaintiff Jana Jacobs. "Today's decision gives me comfort that my growing family, and other Arkansas families, will receive the respect and protections we deserve."
The National Center for Lesbian Rights is a national legal organization committed to advancing the human and civil rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education. www.NCLRights.org