Marriage Equality, Parentage (In)Equality
Parness, Jeffrey A.
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Recently, several quite distinguished commentators have asked how, if at all, the U.S. Supreme Court will speak, after its same sex marriage ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, to interstate inequalities involving the federal constitutional rights of childcaring parents. Specifically, Professor Mayeri notes in the Yale Law Journal that today the “constitutional law of the family stands at a critical turning point,” leaving us to ponder whether the “advent of marriage equality,” which “disrupted conventional definitions of parenthood” by demoting “marriage and biology in favor or a more intent-based and functional criteria,” will heighten or diminish the federal “constitutional significance of marital status” in parentage matters. Professor NeJamie worries in the Harvard Law Review that Obergefell “may reduce incentives to achieve laws that recognize unmarried, nonbiological parents,” though there is the “potential” for it to “yield more robust recognition for some unmarried parents.” And Dean Murray, while recognizing this “potential,” worries in the California Law Review that Obergefell may not be read to “sanction and facilitate … methods of family formation … that credit nonmarriage.” Obergefell did not directly address any issues involving national parentage equality. It is not likely that the ruling will prompt the U.S. Supreme Court to address national parentage equality any time soon. The Court has historically deferred to state parentage laws while recognizing their significant interstate variations. While interstate parental childcare equality issues are important, they pale in significance to issues of intrastate equality for marital and biological parents, as well as for nonmarital, nonbiological, nonadoptive parents who care for children and who are often deemed de facto or presumed parents, which can include grandparents and/or stepparents. In the article I offer a few thoughts on intrastate parental childcare equality after explaining why interstate inequalities will likely remain unaddressed by the U.S. Supreme Court.