Arizona Supreme Court Rules In Favor Of Full Parental Rights For Same-Sex Couples

By Andrea González-Ramírez

The Arizona Supreme Court unanimously ruled Tuesday that same-sex couples have the same parental rights as parents in opposite-sex relationships — including financial support and child custody.

Under Arizona law, there’s a statute creating a “presumption of paternity” for men in opposite-sex marriages. This means that the husband of a birth mother is presumed to be the legal parent of any child born during the marriage, even in cases in which the woman conceives through artificial insemination. But what happens when a child is born to a lesbian couple in which one of the partners conceived through artificial insemination? Is the wife of the birth mother afforded the same presumption of parentage as men?

That’s the answer the case McLaughlin v. McLaughlin sought to answer. Kimberly and Suzan McLaughlin were married when they conceived a child using an anonymous sperm donor. (They were married in California, and the marriage was considered legal in Arizona retroactively after Obergefell v. Hodges, the historic 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.) The boy was born to Kimberly in 2011, and when the couple separated two years later, she moved out with the child. Court records show she allegedly tried to cut off all contact between the boy and Suzan. Because of this, Suzan sued.

At the time, two lower courts reached different conclusions: One said that under Obergefell, Suzan should have the same presumption of parentage that men in opposite-sex marriages would. Another disagreed.

But on Tuesday, the Arizona Supreme Court upheld the equal rights of same-sex parents. Chief Justice Scott Bales, who wrote the majority opinion, said that even though Suzan is not related biologically to the boy, she still has the same parental rights as the husbands of birth mothers. He made this conclusion in light of Obergefell.

“It would be inconsistent with Obergefell to conclude that same-sex couples can legally marry but states can deny them the same benefits of marriage afforded opposite-sex couples,” Bales wrote. “Legal parent status is, undoubtedly, a benefit of marriage.”

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