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Ropes & Gray Successfully Urges U.S. Supreme Court to Leave Intact Arizona Decision Mandating Equal Treatment of Same-Sex and Opposite-Sex Spouses

Practices: Appellate & Supreme Court, Litigation

At the urging of Ropes & Gray, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review a ruling of the Arizona Supreme Court, which held that the benefits of a state “presumptive parentage” statute must be afforded on an equal basis to both same- and opposite-sex spouses. Ropes & Gray, along with the National Center for Lesbian Rights and local counsel, represented the respondent in the case, McLaughlin v. McLaughlin, in opposing the request for certiorari. On the heels of last summer’s Supreme Court victory in Pavan v. Smith, this decision marks the latest in a string of victories Ropes & Gray has helped achieve against discriminatory state statutes since the Court’s 2015 landmark decision in Obergefell v. Hodges.

In the underlying decision, the Arizona Supreme Court considered a state law that created a presumption of parentage in favor of the male-spouse of a woman who conceived through anonymous sperm donation but not in favor of a similarly-situated female spouse. As a result, a non-biological parent in a same-sex marriage was denied legal parental rights that were routinely afforded to those in opposite-sex marriages. Relying on both Obergefell and Pavan, the state court struck down the statutory scheme, concluding that it created a benefit of marriage which “cannot, consistent with the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses, be restricted to only opposite-sex couples.”

In requesting a grant of certiorari, the petitioner had argued that the Arizona statute should be construed as based on biological distinctions between male and female spouses and should thus be outside the scope of Obergefell and Pavan. The Supreme Court’s denial of review helps to solidify Obergefell’s reach throughout the country. As noted by Catherine Sakimura, Family Law Director at NCLR, the decision helps ensure that “[d]iscrimination against married same-sex couples will not be tolerated.”

Appellate & Supreme Court partner Douglas Hallward-Driemeier led the Ropes & Gray team, which also included litigation and enforcement partner C. Thomas Brown, associates Joshua Goldstein, Molly Gachignard, and Stefan Schropp, and paralegal Sophia Antzoulatos

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