Hawaii Supreme Court Rules Same-Sex Couples Deserve Equal Parental Rights Under Law

The Hawaii Supreme Court issued a momentous ruling in favor of LGBTQ rights last week by affirming equal treatment for same-sex couples.

On Thursday, judges with the state’s highest bench argued that both the parents of children born to same-sex families have full rights to their offspring under the law — just as two heterosexual parents do.

“A man is presumed to be the legal parent of a child if he and the child’s natural mother are married,” the court claimed in a 46-page written ruling. “We now hold that this presumption of parentage applies equally to a woman who is married to the child’s natural mother.”

The case was brought forward on behalf of a woman referred to in court briefs as “L.C.,” who claimed she should not have to pay support for a child that isn’t biologically hers.

The day after they were married in October 2013, the complainant and her now ex-wife (called “M.G.” in case documents) visited a fertility clinic in Washington, D.C. for the purposes of artificial insemination. Although “L.C.” expressed increasing reservations about having a child, “M.G.” finally became pregnant in March 2015 against her partner’s wishes. “L.C.” was deployed in the military at the time.

“L.C.” eventually filed for divorce in October 2015, just weeks before “M.G.” gave birth. Because the divorce proceedings were not finalized, she was listed as the “co-parent” on the child’s birth certificate.

Although “L.C.” petitioned to nullify her parentage on the grounds she is not the child’s biological mother, that request was denied.

In a November 2016 verdict, judges with the Family Court of the First Circuit cited Hawaii’s marriage equality legislation to argue that LGBTQ partners have the same rights as heterosexual couples when it comes to parentage. The Aloha State overturned a constitutional amendment banning same-sex unions by passing a freedom to marry bill in November 2013.

“There [is] no legal distinction between same-sex married couples and opposite-sex married couples with respect to marriage,” that document reads.

The Hawaii Supreme Court upheld the earlier ruling. Judges claimed the 2013 legislation “granted [same-sex partners] the same rights, benefits, and protections enjoyed by heterosexual married couples.”

“With those rights came responsibilities,” the court added. “Perhaps the greatest of these are the responsibilities of parentage.”

The State of Hawaii submitted an amicus brief in the case, pleading with its Supreme Court to “read Hawaii parentage law in a gender-neutral manner.” In a statement, Attorney General Russell Suzuki said government officials wanted to ensure its equal marriage laws are “properly enforced.”

“[T]he children of married same-sex couples [should] have the same opportunity to receive child support as the children of married opposite-sex couples,” Suzuki stated as further reason for the state’s interest in the case.

“The Court today made clear that ‘all’ means all,” added Solicitor General Clyde Wadsworth in a Thursday press release.

While the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges guaranteed the rights of marriage for same-sex couples, courts have been divided on how that historic ruling should be applied.

In April 2018, the Mississippi Supreme Court overturned a lower ruling denying a lesbian mother rights to her non-biological son — who is now six — after she and her ex-wife divorced. Associate Justice David Ishee called the earlier decision “a miscarriage of justice.”

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court came to the opposite conclusion in a verdict handed down just two months ago. Judges ruled state law doesn’t guarantee parentage to non-biological parents.

Although conservatives have attempted to limit the scope of Obergefell by challenging the ability of LGBTQ couples to adopt or receive tax benefits, the U.S. Supreme Court has resisted rolling back that ruling. In Pavan v. Smith, the court held that same-sex partners are guaranteed the rights and benefits that flow from marriage “on the same terms and conditions as opposite-sex couples.”

That case concerned two pairs of lesbian mothers in Arkansas who wished to be listed on their respective children’s birth certificates. Prior to the SCOTUS ruling, the Arkansas Department of Health denied them that opportunity.

“L.C.” has not stated whether she plans to appeal Thursday’s ruling.

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