The Arizona Supreme Court handed down an opinion recently finding a presumption of maternity for a married lesbian couple where the child was born during the marriage. This ruling applies the presumption of paternity for a heterosexual couple to a same-sex couple. This is what many believe the correct application of the law to be post-Obergefell. This question has not been finally decided in Texas, and a Beaumont ruling actually finds the opposite of this ruling – that the presumption of maternity does not apply to a lesbian couple.
The Arizona court examined the application of the constitutional protections from Obergefell in reconciling the paternity statutes. Their analysis follows:
Kimberly argues that the Court cannot interpret § 25- 814(A)(1) gender neutrally because doing so would effectively rewrite the statute, thereby invading the legislature’s domain. Instead, Kimberly contends that this Court must wait for the legislature to remedy this constitutional defect. This argument misperceives this Court’s constitutional role and responsibility when faced with a statute that violates the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.
To place the remedial issue in context, it is useful to review some settled constitutional principles. The United States Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Constitution is binding on state court judges, just as on other state officers. See Cooper v. Aaron, 358 U.S. 1, 18–19 (1958). When the Constitution conflicts with a statute, the former prevails. Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. 137, 178 (1803) (noting “the constitution is superior to any ordinary act of the legislature; [and] the constitution, and not such ordinary act, must govern the case to which they both apply”); The Federalist No. 78 at 467 (Alexander Hamilton) (Clinton Rossiter ed., 1961). It is no answer to a constitutional violation in a pending case to assert that it could be remedied by legislative action. “The dynamic of our constitutional system is that individuals need not await legislative action before asserting a fundamental right.” Obergefell, 135 S. Ct. at 2605.
When a statute grants benefits but violates equal protection, a court has “two remedial alternatives.” Califano v. Westcott, 443 U.S. 76, 89 (1979). “[A] court may either declare [the statute] a nullity and order that its benefit not extend to the class that the legislature intended to benefit, or it may extend the coverage of the statute to include those who are aggrieved by exclusion.” Id. (quoting Welsh v. United States, 398 U.S. 333, 361 (1970) (Harlan, J., concurring in result)). State court judges face the same remedial alternatives when a benefit statute violates equal protection. See Wengler, 446 U.S. at 153 (remanding remedial question to state court because “state judges are better positioned to choose” whether extension or nullification of a state benefit statute is more “consonant with the state legislature’s overall purpose”). This remedial choice is not confined to circumstances in which the state grants monetary benefits but instead applies to other statutory classifications violative of equal protection. See, e.g., Sessions v. Morales-Santana, 137 S. Ct. 1678, 1686–87 (2017) (concerning statutes conferring U.S. citizenship on children born abroad); Welsh, 398 U.S. at 361– 63 (Harlan, J., concurring) (concerning statute authorizing exemption from military service for conscientious objectors).
Which remedial alternative a court elects “is governed by the legislature’s intent, as revealed by the statute at hand.” Morales-Santana, 137 S. Ct. at 1699. In making this assessment, a court should “measure the intensity of commitment to the residual policy and consider the degree of potential disruption of the statutory scheme that would occur by extension as opposed to abrogation.” Heckler, 465 U.S. at 739 n.5 (quoting Welsh, 398 U.S. at 365 (Harlan, J., concurring in result)). Generally, the proper remedy is extension, not nullification. Morales-Santana, 137 S. Ct. at 1699.
Because § 25-814(A)(1) is now a constitutionally defective state-benefit statute, we must determine whether to extend the marital paternity presumption to similarly situated women such as Suzan or to nullify it altogether. Neither party here requests that this Court strike § 25- 814(A)(1). This is unsurprising because extension, as opposed to abrogation, is more consonant with the purposes of the marital paternity presumption.
For these reasons, we extend § 25-814(A)(1) to same-sex spouses such as Suzan. By extending § 25-814(A)(1) to same-sex spouses, we ensure all children, and not just children born to opposite-sex spouses, have financial and emotional support from two parents and strong family units.
Many lawyers interpret the status of the law for same-sex lesbian couples where a child is born during the marriage to require a Suit to Adjudicate Parentage as with other heterosexual couples. Most of the time we tell parents to do a second-parent adoption to be safe and establish legitimacy. But many experts in the field feel that this is an unconstitutional burden upon same-sex married parents that denies equal protection under the law.
Until there is a Texas case on point, it is still a good idea to cover all avenues just to be safe.