A Senate committee has again rejected Sen. Joyce Elliott’s bill — modeled after a suggestion in court proceedings by the attorney general’s office — to provide equal treatment of same-sex married couples in issuance of birth certificates. This was the second try to pass the bill through the Senate committee.
When heterosexual couples have children through sperm donation or a surrogate mother, the parents are automatically presumed to be parents and are listed as such on birth certificates. The same presumption is not accorded same-sex married couples. Opponents of the measure have tried to argue it’s about biology when, transparently, it is not.
Still to come, most likely, is a lawsuit over Arkansas’s denial of equal treatment to same-sex couples, something the U.S. Supreme Court has said is now the law of the land.
Update from Benji, 1 p.m.: Elliott tried to convince the committee today that Senate Bill 580 should be seen as a matter of bringing the state into compliance with federal law — and of simple fairness in treating children of same-sex couples no differently than other children. She said the bill was “family-friendly” and would allow “those families to take responsibility fully, like any of the rest of us should, and … place the names of the parents on the birth certificates.”
Jana Jacobs was among those who spoke for the bill. A mother of two boys with a third child on the way, she said she and her wife have been together for 14 years. They were married in 2010 in Iowa and again in Arkansas in 2014, after a circuit court briefly legalized same-sex unions in the state (a year before the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling made marriage equality the law of nationwide). Jacobs’ wife conceived the children via artificial insemination, she said, and it has cost her family time and money to get both parents’ names listed on their sons’ birth certificate.
Jacobs explained why that was necessary, for reasons both material and not. “I wanted to make sure they had the health care, financial support — any benefits that would arise from my death or disability. I also never wanted my kids to think that there was anyone absent from their life. They were born into the exact family that they were intended to be in. And a birth certificate with both of our names would make that clear not only to them, but to anyone who would require such a document.”
Although she has legally adopted the two children, she noted that “having a birth certificate with both intended parents would give families immediate relief without having to worry that their children are being left unprotected for any amount of time. A birth certificate could provide much needed security during our often lengthy and costly process of adoption.
Without the fix in law provided by Elliott’s bill, Jacobs said, “the state is unduly illegitimizing my children.”
Also speaking for the bill was Allison Koile, a Little Rock lawyer who said she’s been hired by five same-gender couples to get both parents’ names listed on their children’s birth certificates. Not only is this inequitable, she argued, it’s also an unnecessary use of legal and court resources. “I’ve even had judges say that they should be spending their time on other types of cases, rather than having to hold a hearing and produce an order for something that could have been and should have been resolved already,” she said. “Regardless of your feelings on same sex marriage, a yes vote for SB 580 is a vote for equal application of the law.”
At the time the bill came up, the committee’s chair, Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson (R-Little Rock), was out of the room, and Senator Linda Collins-Smith (R-Pocahontas) was chairing the committee. Collins-Smith asked Koile, “There are other legal ways to make sure that children inherit their family or friends’ belongings, isn’t that correct?”
“There is a probate process that can be undertaken, but again, that does occupy the court’s time,” Koile replied.
“There are wills and gifting that you can do, so there are other options, correct?” Collins-Smith asked.
Koile acknowledged that was the case: “There are also trusts, but these are all expensive options. … Inheritance as a right is guaranteed for children that are recognized by the state.”
In closing, Elliott said Arkansas was the only state that was openly out of compliance with federal law on this issue. She also pushed back against Collins-Smith’s line of questions. “It is absolutely true that there are other ways … so that children have their rights … but neither my child nor your child nor anybody’s child sitting around this table has to do that. Our kids don’t have to do that. But we ask these folks sitting here, this woman sitting here and her family … to have to have the money to go to probate court … and get the same rights that we expect for our kids? … It is not a law about the morality of marriage of any kind. It’s just simply: Are your kids equal to our kids? Are we willing to say to their kids that they are not equal to our kids?”
In fact, most on the committee seemed unwilling to say anything at all. Sen. Will Bond (D-Little Rock) moved for passage of the bill, but none of the other four senators in attendance (all Republicans) seconded the motion, meaning the motion failed. (Supporters of the bill told me after the meeting that they believed Sen. Hutchinson’s absence was not intentional, as he had vocally supported SB 580 when it came up previously.)
Jacobs’ full remarks to the committee follow:
My name is Jana Jacobs; I’m from Little Rock, Arkansas. My wife and I have two sons — Yogi, four and a half, and Finch, 21 months, and we’re expecting a little girl this June. We’ve been together for 14 years. We were married in 2010 in Iowa, and when we decided we wanted children we went the same way as so many couples with fertility issues and used artificial insemination.
Our son Yogi was born in 2012, and later, when we were in the process of my adopting him, Arkansas ruled to allow gay marriage, so we rushed down to the courthouse and were married again. Then we went to the vital records office, and they amended his birth certificate right then and there and were very accommodating and polite. We walked out of there with his amended birth certificate, with my name on it. Just over a year later, my son Finch was born, on June 26, 2015, which was the same day that the Supreme Court ruled making all marriages equal under the Fourteenth Amendment. So a few weeks later I went to pick up his birth certificate and was told I would need a court order. Not only was I not allowed on his birth certificate at that time, it turns out that the one we thought we had amended in 2014 existed nowhere in the vital records office. I had the only official copy; it had never been processed, and I was none the wiser for this.
During all this, all I wanted was to take legal responsibility for our kids. I wanted to make sure they had the health care, financial support — any benefits that would arise from my death or disability. I also never wanted my kids to think that there was anyone absent from their life. They were born into the exact family that they were intended to be in. And a birth certificate with both of our names would make that clear not only to them, but to anyone who would require such a document. The long form birth certificate is always going to name an anonymous sperm donor, or a sperm donor, or a surrogate. That’s not going to change, but the certificate that they’re going to present to their school officials … will have both of our names as parents, as they were always intended to be
The bill before you today spells out very clearly how children who were born with assisted reproductive measures are to be viewed with regards to parentage. This is true for my family, and for yours, and for any others. It takes nothing away from heterosexual couples, but not making the amendment impacts families like mine with unnecessary burdens that wouldn’t be expected of any other married couple, and that’s not equal protection under the U.S. Constitution. Without this amendment, my children could lose many of the benefits that are afforded by marriage, such as my social security benefits, inheritance, life insurance benefits, child support, health insurance, the ability for me to make decisions regarding their medical care, and so many more.
Without this amendment, the state is unduly illegitimizing my children. I adopted my sons and I’ll adopt my daughter. But adoptions take time and take money, and having a birth certificate with both intended parents would give families immediate relief without having to worry that their children are being left unprotected for any amount of time. A birth certificate could provide much needed security during our often lengthy and costly process of adoption. We’ve spent thousands of dollars already … and this is a financial burden that wouldn’t be required of any other family.
My children have two parents. They have from conception through today. They will know someday that I share no biology with them; that’s an obvious truth. But they’ll never have to question whether I’m their mother or if they are exactly where they are meant to be.
I implore you to look at this bill as a necessary tool to ensure that all families have their intentions recognized for what they are — a way to make families whole.