Iowa Lesbian Couple Win Birth Certificate Battle
A married lesbian couple who went to court over the Iowa Department of Public Health’s refusal to put both their names on their child’s birth certificate were issued a new certificate this week as part of a court ruling in their favor.
Des Moines couple Melissa Gartner, 41, and Heather Gartner, 40, sued when the Iowa Department of Public Health refused to list both their names on the birth certificate of their daughter, now 2 years old.
Polk County District Judge Eliza Ovrom issued a narrow ruling in their favor, avoiding the question of whether there was a constitutional right for the same-sex couple to have their names on the birth certificate.
Instead, Judge Ovrom found the department failed to properly interpret the Supreme Court’s 2009 ruling that same-sex couples should have full access to state-sanctioned marriage rights.
Ovrom’s 12-page ruling stops short of declaring a constitutional right for same-sex parents to be named automatically on newborns’ birth certificates. But it faults state officials for failing to correctly interpret older Iowa laws in light of the April 2009 Iowa Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriages.
State administrators are bound by the 2009 case to interpret laws in a way that gives “full access to the institution of marriage,” Ovrom wrote.
“Pursuant to Varnum v. Brien, where a married woman gives birth to a baby conceived through use of an anonymous sperm donor, the Department of Public Health should place her same-sex spouse’s name on the child’s birth certificate without requiring the spouse to go through an adoption proceeding,” Ovrom concluded. “Petitioners have proven the Department’s actions are in violation of law and based on an erroneous interpretation of the law….”
The Department of Health based its refusal to issue a birth certificate featuring both mother’s names on the fact that its interpretation of state law read the rules to be gender specific, and that there was no scope for the non-biological mother to be listed as a spouse instead of a husband.
The Department said it will review the judge’s order before considering whether to appeal.