Updating Arizona’s laws to reflect same-sex couples’ rights to marry has been slow in coming. The language reflects a different time with references to husbands, fathers, and even gestation periods.
A recent ruling by the state’s Supreme Court gave the effort a much-needed boost.
After their 2008 marriage in California, Kimberly and Suzan McLaughlin made Arizona their home. As they began their new life, they decided to have a child through an anonymous sperm donor. Kimberly carried the child and the couple had a son in 2011. Suzan stayed at home with the baby while Kimberly resumed her career as a physician.
Two years later, Kimberly moved out, taking the child with her and cutting off all contact with her spouse.
Suzan filed a lawsuit, claiming that the state’s parental rights statute should be interpreted as gender neutral in spite of its use of the word “husband.” When a child is born during a marriage, the spouse, regardless of gender, should be the legal second parent unless proof exists otherwise.
Kimberly’s legal counsel countered that the wording of the statute is clear. A man married within 10 months of a child’s birth is presumed to be the father of a child. Since there was no man or father in the relationship, the law does not apply to the same-sex married couple.
After a split in opinions from the Arizona Court of Appeals, the Arizona Supreme Court took on the case. All seven justices partially agreed that parents in same-sex marriages hold the same rights as any married couple.
They ruled that the U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage mandates that states grant the same rights that opposite-sex marriages enjoy. Legal parent status is a benefit of all marriages. Every child is entitled to financial and emotional support that comes from two parents that compose a strong family unit.
With both their decision and the language contained in their ruling, the jurists have decisively put the ball in the Arizona Legislature’s court. The governing body continues to balk at updating family law statutes that continue to violate federal law.