A certificate is born
Court says birth forms should be fairly handled
For most of the last 100 years or so, it hardly seemed a big deal that Arkansas birth certificate applications sought the “full maiden name of mother (name before marriage)” and a listing for the full name of the husband. The government-issued document was a reflection of the times, back when a lot of people were OK with the assumptions involved.
Mom, Dad and 2.2 children in each household. Apple pie. Baseball. Working for the same company for 45 years before retiring with a pension.
A lot, and do we mean a lot, has changed since then, not the least of which is the make-up of the American family. Sure, there’s still Mom, Dad and the kids in many instances. But two-parent households are (sadly) on the decline. Divorce and remarriage are not the stigmatizing developments they once were. Children are born to women who may or may not live with the father. If the father is in the home, in a good number of cases he’ll be called “Dad” but not “husband.” Throw in the stepmoms and stepdads, stepbrothers and stepsisters, adopted siblings, grandkids living with a parent’s parent, and it all starts to make “The Brady Bunch” seem like simple times. Well, they did have Alice to help.
Perhaps the biggest change involving recognized relationships happened two years ago when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled American adults have a fundamental right to marry. That ruling broadened the definition of marriage from one manone woman to include same-sex matrimony.
So now, lesbian and gay people have the same right to bind themselves to one another under the authority of all 50 states as straight men and women have had since the beginning. The same ability to love and cherish or to get increasingly sick of each other. The same capacity for divorce, too.
They also face resistance in the form of institutions slow to adjust to their newfound officialness, the latest example of which is the state of Arkansas’ process for issuing birth certificates.
The Arkansas Department of Health last year refused to issue birth certificates naming both same-sex partners as parents. The birthing mom had no problem, of course, but a female spouse? Nope, said the state, unless a court order was involved.
Attorneys for the state out of Attorney General Leslie Rutledge’s office had contended birth certificates were intended to reflect biological lineage. A lot of people through the years have assumed as much, but other than identification of the mother who gave birth, the rest of the document was based on little more than a pinky swear. Any husband listed was assumed to be the father, but no paternity testing was involved. Indeed, if the state really wanted to enforce birth certificates as a governmental record of biological lineage, we suspect some heterosexual couples would discover some issues to discuss. Then we come full circle back to that right to divorce.
The contention of the lesbian couples who sued the state was that the birth certificate wasn’t about provable lineage. So if heterosexual couples get to just name the non-birthing spouse on a government record, why should same-sex couples be held to a higher standard?
If birth certificates are to be biological records, that’s going to need to apply to everyone in some provable fashion. But everyone has been OK with the assumptions made for birth records for, well, forever. Why change now?