Supreme Court Tells Arkansas It Must List Same-Sex Couples on Birth Certificates

Marisa and Terrah Pavan

On the two-year anniversary of the Obergefell ruling that sent marriage equality nationwide, the Supreme Court ruled today that Arkansas can’t stop same-sex couples from being listed on birth certificates.

Arkansas had tried to undercut the high court’s Obergefell v. Hodges ruling issued on June 26, 2015 by claiming that birth certificates can list only biological parents. Meanwhile, birth certificates for straight couples list a mother’s male spouse, even if that man is not the biological father.

The Arkansas Supreme Court had ruled in favor of the state, which had hoped to learn today whether the court would hear an appeal by the same-sex couples, referred to as Pavan v. Smith. Instead, the justices issued a summary ruling even without hearing oral arguments.  

“As this Court explained in Obergefell v. Hodges, the Constitution entitles same-sex couples to civil marriage ‘on the same terms and conditions as opposite-sex couples,’” the court ruled. The justices seemed perturbed that the Arkansas Supreme Court had ignored the particulars of the Obergefell ruling, and they citied their own decision repeatedly.

“Indeed, in listing those terms and conditions—the 'rights, benefits, and responsibilities' to which same-sex couples, no less than opposite-sex couples, must have access — we expressly identified ‘birth and death certificates,’” they wrote of their Obergefell decision.

Basically, Arkansas must treat same-sex couples the same as it does straight couples, the court ruled.

“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 justices wrote. “As already explained, when a married woman in Arkansas conceives a child by means of artificial insemination, the State will — indeed, must — list the name of her male spouse on the child’s birth certificate. And yet state law, as interpreted by the court below, allows Arkansas officials in those very same circumstances to omit a married woman’s female spouse from her child’s birth certificate. As a result, same-sex parents in Arkansas lack the same right as opposite-sex parents to be listed on a child’s birth certificate, a document often used for important transactions like making medical decisions for a child or enrolling a child in school.”

The decision was unsigned but Justice John Roberts, who dissented in Obergefell, did not join in the dissent on this ruling. Instead, the dissent was written by Neil Gorsuch, who was joined by Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas. 

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