Arkansas judge blocks state from issuing birth certificates


LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) – An Arkansas judge on Friday blocked the state from issuing any birth certificates until officials are able to comply with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that the state’s birth certificate law illegally favors heterosexual parents.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox on Friday set aside his orders requiring the state and three same-sex couples go into mediation on how to fix the state law to comply with the U.S. high court’s order. Attorney General Leslie Rutledge earlier this week asked the state Supreme Court to stay or lift Fox’s mediation order.

“This case has been pending for over two years and it has been more than six months since the United States Supreme Court ruled the Arkansas statutory scheme unconstitutional,” Fox wrote in his order. “There are citizens and residents of the state of Arkansas whose constitutional rights are being violated on a daily basis.”

The U.S. Supreme Court in June sided with Fox’s 2015 ruling striking down part of a birth certificate law defining parents by gender. That overturned a decision by the Arkansas Supreme Court. The state Supreme Court ordered Fox in October to come up with a way for the state to comply with the U.S. court’s decision.

The law required the name of the husband to appear on the birth certificate when a married woman gave birth in Arkansas, regardless of whether he was the biological father. But married lesbian couples had to get a court order to have both spouses listed. The three couples who had sued the state were allowed to amend their children’s birth certificates in 2015 under a ruling issued by Fox.

Fox last month had threatened to halt the issuance of birth certificates altogether if both sides couldn’t find language by Jan. 5 to be stricken from the law. Rutledge told the court this week that both sides had agreed on an order on how to comply with the high court ruling, but Fox rejected it. A spokeswoman for Rutledge said the AG’s office was reviewing Fox’s order and did not have an immediate comment.

In his order, Fox said he was hopeful Gov. Asa Hutchinson would have the authority to fix the birth certificate law through executive action. If the state is unable to fix the law, Fox said, the injunction would be in effect until lawmakers could address the issue. Lawmakers are not scheduled to convene again until February for a session focused on the budget. Hutchinson could call a special session.

An attorney for the couples in the 2015 ruling said she didn’t think a legislative session would be necessary and the fix could be as simple as the state saying it would treat birth certificates in a gender-neutral manner.

“We just need this issue to be finally settled,” attorney Cheryl Maples said.

The state Department of Health said it would stop issuing and amending birth certificates, but would take information from parents who request one for when the state can resume. Health Department Spokeswoman Meg Mirivel said the state issues roughly 400 to 500 new, amended or replacement birth certificates a day.


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