The Iowa Supreme Court has ruled unanimously that the state cannot block two married women from having both their names recorded on their child’s birth certificate.
In a 6-0 ruling on Friday, the state supreme court ruled against the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) and ordered that they list both married women on the couple’s child’s birth certificate. The IDPH had argued that for the sake of accuracy and to record biological parentage, they could not do this without undermining what it means to be a mother and a father.
However Justice David Wiggins, writing for the majority, threw out this argument. The court found the notion dubious given that the state currently keeps no records of biological parentage in cases where heterosexual couples have used anonymous sperm donors, and so the court failed to see how the state could make such a distinction.
With a damning note Justice Wiggins stated:
It is important for our laws to recognize that married lesbian couples who have children enjoy the same benefits and burdens as married opposite-sex couples who have children. By naming the nonbirthing spouse on the birth certificate of a married lesbian couple’s child, the child is ensured support from that parent and the parent establishes fundamental legal rights at the moment of birth. Therefore, the only explanation for not listing the nonbirthing lesbian spouse on the birth certificate is stereotype or prejudice.
The exclusion of the nonbirthing spouse on the birth certificate of a child born to a married lesbian couple is not substantially related to the objective of establishing parentage.
The ruling centers on the case of Melissa and Heather Gartner whom the state denied the right to have both their name’s listed on their daughter’s birth certificate in 2009 because, while the baby had been carried by Heather Gartner, the IDPH claimed that Melissa Gartner, lacking any biological connection to the child, could not be classed as a parent.
In 2012 Polk County District Judge Eliza Ovrom, dodging the larger question of whether there is a Constitutional right for same-sex couples to have their names listed on their child’s birth certificates, ruled against the IDPH saying that it had failed to follow and interpret the Iowa Supreme Court’s 2009 ruling, Varnum v. Brien, that legalized same-sex marriage and said same-sex couples must have all the rights of state sanctioned marriage.
Iowa state law does not place an emphasis on biological parentage but rather on the marriage itself conferring parenting rights. Therefore, following the 2009 case concerning a same-sex couples’ right to marry, it should follow that this aspect of marriage would be open to same-sex parents.
The IDPH contended that Varnum did not stretch that far with Assistant Iowa Attorney General Heather Adams contending that those rights were gender specific.
The argument goes that birth certificates list a mother and a father based on biological parentage which, as the logic goes, can’t be interchanged with the gender neutral term “spouse” without rendering the idea of a mother and father meaningless.
“If I had to summarize the department’s case in one sentence, it would be this: It is a biological impossibility for a woman to ever legally establish paternity of a child,” Adams said.
The IDPH appealed Judge Ovrom’s ruling before the Iowa Supreme Court but, it seems, found little favor there either.
Lambda Legal, which represented Melissa and Heather Gartner in court, hailed this as a sizable victory for same-sex couples in Iowa:
The Court meant what it said in the Varnum decision: Same-sex couples and their families must be treated equally under the law. Same-sex couples and their children do not get marriage “lite.” Marriage is marriage and equal is equal.
This is great news for the Gartner family and for the long list of children who have been born to married same-sex parents since 2009 and who have been waiting for a two-parent birth certificate that reflects their family.
This ruling is particularly vindicating given that several of the judges who made the 2009 Varnum ruling were infamously unseated by a Religious Right and GOP-led effort in 2010. However, though the justices may have changed, the reading of the law appears to have stayed the same.
Care2 Success: Finally, thank you to the hundreds of Care2 members who signed a petition calling on the IDPH to recognize same-sex parents parental rights.
Image credit: Thinkstock.