Pavan v. Smith

Facts of the Case

The petitioners here are two married same-sex couples who conceived children through anonymous sperm donation. Leigh and Jana Jacobs were married in Iowa in 2010, and Terrah and Marisa Pavan were married in New Hampshire in 2011. Leigh and Terrah each gave birth to a child in Arkansas in 2015. When it came time to secure birth certificates for the newborns, each couple filled out paperwork listing both spouses as parents—Leigh and Jana in one case, Terrah and Marisa in the other. Both times, however, the Arkansas Department of Health issued certificates bearing only the birth mother’s name.


Is it unconstitutional for a state to preclude a same-sex couple from being listed as the two parents on their child’s birth certificate?


A state rule that requires a child’s birth certificate to list the non-biological father if he is married to the biological mother but that does not allow both same-sex spouses to be listed as parents is unconstitutional discrimination that violates Obergefell v. Hodges. In a per curiam opinion, the Court held that the rule functionally deprives married same-sex couples the same rights to be listed on their children’s birth certificates as married opposite-sex couples have. Not being listed on a child’s birth certificate can significantly affect a parent’s ability to participate in transactions that require showing proof of parentage. Therefore, this rule unconstitutionally discriminates against married same-sex couples by denying them access to the same rights, responsibilities, and benefits that married opposite-sex couples have.Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote a dissent in which he argued that the Obergefell precedent was limited to recognition of same-sex marriage and did not extend to the constitutionality of biology-based birth certificate rules, like the one at issue in this case. Because the rule was challenged in its entirety rather than the specific part relating to artificial insemination, the Court’s per curiam opinion was improperly broad. Justice Clarence Thomas and Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr. joined in the dissent.

Case Information

  • Citation: 582 US _ (2017)
  • Granted: Jun 26, 2017
  • Decided Jun 26, 2017