News (USA)

Arkansas judge strikes part of birth certificate law

Arkansas judge strikes part of birth certificate law
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — An Arkansas judge struck down part of the state’s law on birth certificates Tuesday, a move the plaintiffs’ attorney said clears the way for married same-sex couples to both be listed as parents.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox ruled that portions of the state’s birth certificate law are unconstitutional after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage nationwide in June. The portion struck down by Fox limits references to spouses as husband or wife.

“Such language categorically prohibits every same-sex married couple, regardless of gender, from enjoying the same spousal benefits which are available to every opposite sex married couple,” Fox wrote in his ruling.

Fox’s order expands on a ruling he issued from the bench last week allowing three same-sex couples who sued the state for refusing to name both spouses on the birth certificates of their children to amend the documents and list both names. An attorney for the couples said Tuesday’s order expands that ruling to all married-same sex couples.

“The way he has done the modification of the statute, striking the unconstitutional gender based language allows the LGBT community the rights they were afforded by (the U.S. Supreme Court decision,)” attorney Cheryl Maples said Tuesday.

A spokesman for Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said her office was reviewing the decision and evaluating the next step to take. Fox denied a motion by the state to suspend his ruling from last week.

The married women said in the lawsuit filed in Pulaski County Circuit Court that the state Health Department would list only the biological mother on the birth certificate, and said they were told they would need a court order to name both spouses. The couples sought the birth certificates after the U.S. Supreme Court in June struck down gay marriage bans nationwide.

Two of the couples were married out of state before the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, and a third was married in Arkansas days after the decision. The couples’ children were conceived through anonymous sperm donors.

Maples said she expected at least one of the couples she represents to seek the amended certificates Wednesday morning.

Fox said his ruling doesn’t resolve many of the legal issues the couples argued they and others would face if both spouses weren’t listed on the certificates. He said the only way to completely avoid those issues would be court-approved adoption or surrogacy contracts.

“The plaintiffs are constitutionally entitled to the declaration issued today by the court, but the only way for same-sex couples to foreclose potential future legal problems involving their minor children is the exact same way that opposite-sex couples, who are not both the biological parents of the minor child or children, must follow,” he wrote.

Last year, before the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza struck down Arkansas’ 2004 voter-approved same-sex marriage ban as unconstitutional. In denying the state’s motion for a stay, Fox cited the state Supreme Court’s months-long delay in issuing its opinion in the state’s appeal of Piazza’s decision.

The state Supreme Court dismissed the case hours after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

“Such delays provide a breeding ground for speculation of political intrigue or other illegitimate reasons for the delay — whether true or not,” Fox wrote.

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