A cer­tifi­cate is born

Court says birth forms should be fairly han­dled

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - EDITORIAL PAGE -

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?

They shouldn’t.

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?

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