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U.S. Supreme Court Reverses Arkansas’ Attempt to Defy Obergefell, the Landmark 2015 Marriage Equality Decision

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court, citing the 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, reversed the Arkansas Supreme Court’s decision in Pavan v. Smith which denied same-sex married couples’ right to be named on their children’s birth certificates just as other married parents are. The petitioners in the case were represented by Ropes & Gray and the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR). In a decisive victory for these families, the Supreme Court summarily reversed the Arkansas Supreme Court opinion without requiring oral arguments or written briefing.

As the U.S. Supreme Court recognized, Arkansas’s refusal to issue birth certificates listing both spouses in a same-sex couple as parents caused serious harm to their families, complicating parents’ ability to consent to emergency medical care, enroll children in school or recreational sports, travel abroad, and generally care for their children. By treating these couples differently than opposite-sex couples, Arkansas subjected them to official stigma and bias, sending a message that they were unworthy of equal recognition by the state.

In a 6-3 per curiam decision—which was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts, who dissented in Obergefell—the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the families and reaffirmed that differential treatment of same- and opposite-sex married couples is unconstitutional.

“Today’s Supreme Court decision protects same-sex married couples and their children from discrimination and strengthens the rule of law,” said appellate & Supreme Court partner Douglas Hallward-Driemeier, who served as co-counsel in the case with NCLR. “Marriage equality is the law of the land, and this decision sends a clear message that states must follow the law and treat all married couples equally.”

In addition to  Mr. Hallward-Driemeier, the Ropes & Gray team included business & securities litigation partner C. Thomas Brown, associates Joshua Goldstein, Daniel Swartz and Molly Gachignard, and paralegal Sophia Antzoulatos.

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