Arkansas governor sets birth certificate changes; agency restarts issuing documents hours after judge's halt

Gov. Asa Hutchinson is shown in this file photo. At right is the directive he issued ordering the Arkansas Department of Health to resume issuing birth certificates.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson has issued a directive ordering the Arkansas Department of Health to resume issuing birth certificates and to "allow female spouses of women who give birth to be listed" on them.

The directive comes hours after a Pulaski County circuit judge ordered the state to halt issuing the certificates until its procedures — ruled to be illegal by the U.S. Supreme Court — can be brought up to Constitutional standards.

Hutchinson's directive📄 says the agency "must list the spouse of a woman who gives birth, regardless of the gender of the spouse, on their children's birth certificates" unless specific exceptions apply.

Meg Mirivel, a spokeswoman for the Health Department, said in a text around noon that the agency had begun issuing birth certificates again. It had ceased for a time after Judge Tim Fox issued the injunction📄 shortly before 8 a.m. Friday.

[DOCUMENT: Read Hutchinson's directive to Arkansas Department of Health]

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down Arkansas' procedures because they treat same-sex parents differently than opposite sex parents. Fox had set a Jan. 5 deadline for the parties to see if they could work out a temporary fix to the laws until the General Assembly could pass legislation that would bring the procedures up to constitutional standards.

The issue was before the nation's highest court after Arkansas justices found the state's birth-certificate program to be legal. Three same-sex couples sued the Arkansas Department of Health over procedures in July 2015. Fox found the state's birth certificate statutes to be illegal in December 2015. Gay marriage was legalized by the U.S. Supreme Court in June 2015.

Hutchinson's directive said the changes comply "with the constitutional directives set forth" in the U.S. Supreme Court and the Arkansas Supreme Court.

In a statement, Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said the governor's directive "is consistent with the agreement the parties in litigation submitted earlier this week."

"Judge Fox has been preventing this agreement from becoming effective and we hope he will accept this reasonable solution," she said. "It is important to the people of Arkansas that birth certificates continue to be available, and the United States Supreme Court has required equal treatment in issuing them.”

Mirivel said the state issues between 400 and 500 birth certificates a day. Fox's order stated that he was "hopeful" that Gov. Asa Hutchinson has the authority to fix the law by executive order.

[DOCUMENT: Read judge's order halting issuance of birth certificates]

Fox also canceled his order that Attorney General Leslie Rutledge personally participate in mediation to figure out a solution. Rutledge has an emergency appeal before the Arkansas Supreme Court that challenges the legality of the courts issuing such orders to constitutional officers such as herself.

Rutledge's appeal states that the parties have already agreed to a solution but that Fox rejected it because he disagrees with the Arkansas justices over how they have ordered the case be resolved.

Read Saturday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.

Reporter John Moritz contributed to this story.