Supreme Court of Hawai’i Hears Parenting Case Testing Marriage Equality Ruling

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December 14, 2017
Clyde J Wadsworth, solicitor general representing Hawai'i filed an amicus brief in our case. He is joined here by Lambda Legal Attorney Peter Renn and Christopher D Thomas, co-counsel.

The Supreme Court of Hawai’i today heard oral argument in the case of C.C. v. D.D., in which Lambda Legal is urging the Court to uphold a lower court ruling that, just like different-sex spouses, same-sex spouses must be treated as the presumed parents of children born during their marriage, with equal rights and equal responsibilities, including legal parentage and child support.

The case involves a dispute between a married same-sex couple regarding whether the non-biological mother, C.C., is a legal parent to their child and thus responsible for paying child support.

Lambda Legal is representing the biological mother, D.D., who gave birth to a child conceived through assisted reproduction using anonymous donor sperm, during the couple’s marriage. (The parties are identified only by pseudonym initials during the oral argument.)

Among other things, C.C. is asking the appeals court to hold that she is not a legal parent – and to relieve her of her child support obligations – simply because she is not biologically related to the child.

The lower court rejected this argument and found that C.C. was a legal parent under the Uniform Parentage Act and Marriage Equality Act, both of which operate to presume that the legal spouse of a birth parent is also a parent, a longstanding feature of family law that is intended to protect the well-being of children.

“Equal rights come with equal responsibilities. Like other married couples, same-sex spouses can walk away from each other but not from their obligations to their children. Obergefell, the ruling that made marriage equality the law of the land, guarantees marriage on equal terms for same-sex couples and their children,” Lambda Legal Senior Attorney Peter Renn said.

“Families are formed in different ways but the same rule applies: when a married couple decides to bring a child into this world, that child has two legal parents, regardless of their gender. A non-biological parent can’t invoke biology as a shield to evade parental responsibilities, just as a biological parent can’t wield biology as a sword to cut off a non-biological parent’s rights.”

The State of Hawai’i submitted a friend-of-the court brief on behalf of Lambda Legal’s client in support of reading Hawai’i parentage laws in a gender-neutral manner to apply to same-sex spouses.

Recent U.S. Supreme Court authority also requires that same-sex spouses be treated equally to other couples with respect to parenting. In Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court struck down bans on the ability of same-sex couples to legally marry and held that states must apply the same terms and conditions of civil marriage to same-sex couples, which includes the rights and benefits along with the responsibilities.

In Pavan v. Smith, the Supreme Court held that Arkansas’ refusal to list both same-sex spouses on a child’s birth certificate was unconstitutional, because the certificate was “more than a mere marker of biological relationships.” Renn explained, “As the U.S. Supreme Court recently made clear, there is no skim-milk marriage; marriage is marriage – for everyone.”

C.C. and D.D. married in 2013. Throughout their marriage, they talked about starting a family together. D.D. became pregnant in 2015 through assisted reproduction using anonymous donor sperm.

The couple’s marriage subsequently deteriorated, and C.C. sought a court ruling that she is not a legal parent to the child and thus not responsible for paying any child support because, among other things, she is not the child’s biological parent. The lower court held that C.C. was a legal parent and responsible for child support.

It held that the marital presumption of parentage applied to same-sex spouses and that C.C. failed to prove that she did not consent to D.D. becoming pregnant through assisted reproduction.

C.C. appealed the lower court’s ruling to the Intermediate Court of Appeals of the State of Hawai’i, but then requested the case be transferred to the Supreme Court of Hawai’i, who heard the case today.

The case was heard at the Castle Performing Art Center as part of the Courts in the Community program, the Hawai’i Supreme Court’s “educational program that gives high school students unique, hands-on experience in how the Hawaii judicial system works.”