December 8, 2016 / 10:27 PM / 8 months ago

Arkansas Supreme Court blocks birth certificates for same-sex couples

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (Reuters) - Birth certificates issued in Arkansas must identify the biological parents even if the child is subsequently adopted by a same-sex couple, a divided state Supreme Court ruled on Thursday.

A four-member court majority reversed Little Rock Circuit Judge Tim Fox's finding in December 2015 that the state's insistence on identifying both mother and father were infringements on the constitutional due process rights of adoptive gay and lesbian couples. The state Supreme Court had previously stayed Fox's decision.

The U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage last year, leading Fox to side with three lesbian couples who argued that decision effectively voided Arkansas statutes and regulations requiring a child's biological parents to be listed. 

Arkansas has resisted identifying same-sex couples as parents on state birth certificates largely on technical grounds, arguing the protocol was established by the Legislature and the state Health Board and could not be changed without action by either, or both.

"It does not violate equal protection to acknowledge basic biological truths," Arkansas Supreme Court Associate Judge Jo Hart wrote in Thursday's majority decision.

“In the situation involving the female spouse of a biological mother, the female spouse does not have the same biological nexus to the child that the biological mother or the biological father has. It does not violate equal protection to acknowledge basic biological truths,” Hart wrote.

Identifying a biological parent, when possible, was an “important governmental objective” in tracking public health trends and providing genetic information to the child for medical purposes, Hart added. 

    In his dissenting opinion, Arkansas Associate Justice Paul Danielson said the state court majority was “simply and demonstrably wrong.” He said the U.S. Supreme Court's same-sex marriage ruling effectively demanded that a parent's name be listed on birth certificates “even when biological ties do not exist.”

The state had appealed Fox's decision that allowed same-sex couples statewide to be listed, saying it conflicted with Arkansas statutes and left birth registrars in legal limbo.

In upholding some but not all the lower court's findings, Arkansas Chief Justice Howard Brill quoted singer Bob Dylan in urging all three branches of state government to address the legal implications of same-sex marriage and adoption by streamlining state law. 

“'The times indeed are a-changin’,’” Brill said after quoting several lines from the song "The Times They Are A-Changin'" by Dylan. "All three branches of the government must change accordingly. It is time to heed the call.”

Editing by Ben Klayman and Tom Brown

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