The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear a case that could have undercut marriage rights for same-sex couples.
Even with a 6-3 conservative majority on the high court, SCOTUS refused to rollback same-sex marriage rights.
The case, Box v. Henderson, was brought by parents Ruby and Ashlee Henderson in 2015 as a challenge to Indiana’s birth records law. The couple sued when county officials refused to list both on the birth certificate of their son, who was conceived via artificial insemination.
The state of Indiana regularly lists the male spouse on birth certificates in opposite-sex marriages that conceive via anonymous sperm donors even though the husband has no biological link to the child.
But in the case of the Hendersons, Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill argued “whenever a birth-mother’s wife gains presumptive ‘parentage’ status, a biological father’s rights and obligations to the child have necessarily been undermined without proper adjudication.”
In his brief to the Supreme Court, Hill wrote that it’s just “common sense” that while “the husband of a birth mother is usually the biological father, the wife of a birth mother is never the biological father.”
But in its 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges ruling, which made marriage equality the law of the land, the high court was specific that same-sex couples are entitled to the same “constellation of benefits” of marriage that opposite-sex married couples are afforded. And that includes birth certificates for their children.
The Hendersons argued in their original suit that a number of legal issues could arise regarding who could enroll their son in school, ensure he was covered by health insurance, or even speak on the child’s behalf during a medical appointment. Without the legal status conferred by a birth certificate, one of the women would need to formally adopt their son which could cost up to $5,000 in legal fees.
The couple won in federal court in 2016 but Indiana appealed to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals which upheld the lower court’s ruling ten months ago. In its unanimous decision, the 7th Circuit cited due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment.
In other words, just because someone’s a wife, not a husband, doesn’t mean you can deny them marriage rights.
In 2017, the Supreme Court had ruled on the issue of same-sex parents and birth certificates in Pavan v. Smith, in which SCOTUS found in favor of a same-sex couple who had also conceived through assisted reproduction.
Since that time, SCOTUS refused to hear a similar case in 2018 from Arizona where a lesbian couple sued for legal recognition of the birth mother’s wife as a parent after using an anonymous sperm donor to conceive.
With the Supreme Court’s refusal to review the case today, the lower court rulings will stand.
The Supreme Court denied cert Monday in a case that threatened to chip away at marriage equality. The Court’s denial will disallow Indiana’s effort to discriminate against same-sex couples, and will continue to preserve the meaning of Obergefell v. Hodges. https://t.co/H2TdczYmrk
— 𝑅𝑒𝑠 𝐼𝑝𝑠𝑎 𝐿𝑜𝑞𝑢𝑖𝑡𝑢𝑟 ⚖️ (@Const_Overhaul) December 14, 2020
Another bullet dodged. Whew. LGBTQ rights are simple human rights. And the children of same-sex couples especially deserve equal dignity and decent treatment. Indiana should be ashamed of itself. https://t.co/05vb7l9pp9
— Laurence Tribe (@tribelaw) December 14, 2020
Karen Celestino-Horseman, the attorney for the Hendersons, told The Indianapolis Star they were “delighted” about the Supreme Court’s decision.
“It’s a major victory that is going to keep the same-sex families together, and the children born to these marriages will have two parents to love and protect them,” added Celestino-Horseman.
Cathy Sakimura, Deputy Director and Family Law Director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), said in a statement today, “The Supreme Court rightly denied this case because it has already clearly decided that same-sex spouses and different-sex spouses must be treated equally.”
Solicitor General Tom Fisher, speaking for the Indiana Attorney General’s office, issued a lame “We are disappointed the Court declined to take up the case.”