Arkansas judge temporarily blocks issuing of birth certificates

Birth certificate, Thinkstock
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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) - For a few hours Friday, if you needed an Arkansas birth certificate, you were out of luck. A lengthy legal fight led a judge to stop the process this morning. It's all centered around a lawsuit over same-sex spouses and birth certificates.

The saying goes - the pen is mightier than the sword. Circuit court judge Tim Fox wielded his by ordering the state to stop issuing the documents. Governor Asa Hutchinson used his to calm the resulting chaos.

“I had no idea. I walked into the madness,” said Antoinette Anderson of Pine Bluff on her second trip to the Vital Records office of the Department of Health in Little Rock. “I had to come up here to get a birth certificate, but since I was here for a doctor’s appointment, I tried to kill two birds with one stone.”

Anderson saw first-hand when she arrived in the morning to hear the state had been ordered to stop issuing birth certificates.

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“We came down from Alpena to get this,” said Kendra Connell after a three hour trip from Boone County to get a copy of her birth certificate to travel out of the country more easily. “If we had to go back, we would have been mad.”

It all goes back to how the state handles putting the names of same-sex spouses on birth certificates. The U.S. Supreme Court told Arkansas to figure it out in June. They ruled that now that same-sex marriage is legal official documents have to catch up. But the Arkansas Supreme Court hit the ball back to Judge Fox, who made the original ruling.

Judge Fox wanted it fixed once and for all. Attorney General Leslie Rutledge and the other parties in the case had been working on a deal, but Judge Fox turned up the heat. So Friday, he ordered that nobody gets any birth certificates until it gets solved by the governor or the legislature. Gov. Hutchinson took the hint, and around noon, issued a two-page directive that put the business of birth certificates back on.

“On the way out I got a call and they said that it was ready so I just turned around and came back,” Anderson said.

The governor basically told the Health Department to allow female spouses of the birth mother to put their names on the "father" line of the document. Same-sex couples can get an amended certificate with the changes for free. After that, they have to pay for copies like everyone else.

The attorney general's office says the governor's directive tracks what they had been planning to do anyway after negotiating with the plaintiffs.

Judge Fox may still have to sign off on the plan.