Today, the U.S. Supreme Court declined review of the Box v. Henderson case filed by the State of Indiana in June of 2020, which presented the Court with the issue of whether a state may adopt a biology-based birth certificate system that includes a rebuttable presumption that a birth mother’s husband-but not wife-is the child’s biological parent. Eight female same-sex couples who conceived children through sperm donation sought the right to be recognized on their children’s birth certificates in federal court after the Indiana Department of Vital Records refused to comply. In 2016, the federal district court did order the Indiana Department of Vital Records to begin placing the spouses of people who give birth on their children’s birth certificates regardless of the gender of the spouse; however, the State of Indiana appealed to the Seventh Circuit, which upheld the district court’s ruling.
When Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill asked the Supreme Court to strip same-sex couples of their equal parenting rights, he did so at the request of the Court, which was considering taking up his case. Hill implored the new conservative majority to rule that states may deny married same-sex couples the right to be recognized as parents of their own children. The case gave SCOTUS an opportunity to start chipping away at Obergefell v. Hodges by allowing states to withhold marital privileges from same-sex spouses. If the majority wanted to begin eroding Obergefell, they had their chance. Many feared that the Court, with it’s 6-3 conservative majority, would undercut the guarantee of the rights and privileges afforded to same-sex couples nationwide after Obergefell. Thankfully, that did not happen. Cathy Sakimura, the Deputy Director & Family Law Director of the National Center For Lesbian Rights stated: “We are relieved that the Court took the only reasonable action here and allowed the order requiring Indiana to treat families equally to stand,” meaning that the Seventh Circuit’s opinion that Indiana must list same-sex spouses on their children’s birth certificates in the same manner that it does different-sex parents stands. NCLR, along with Ropes & Gray LLP, represented the couples before the U.S. Supreme Court, along with Indiana counsel Karen Celestino-Horseman, Raymond Faust, Richard Mann, and William Groth.
Many may recall the Arkansas Supreme Court case which also dealt with same-sex spouses wanting to be included on their children’s birth certificates. “The Court has ruled on this issue twice before, first in Obergefell, which included a married lesbian couple from Tennessee who obtained a district court order requiring the state to list both women on their child’s birth certificate, and again in Pavan v. Smith, in which the Court summarily reversed a decision by the Arkansas Supreme Court permitting the state to exclude a birth mother’s female spouse from a child’s birth certificate,” said NCLR Legal Director Shannon Minter(he/him), concluding, “marriage equality remains the law of the land.”