Florida is Fighting Dirty and Refusing to Register Gay Couples as Parents

Florida state has a long history of aggressively refusing to recognize same-sex parent rights. That should have ended with the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling in July, but now three married same-gender couples are going to federal court because they have been prevented from being recognized as parents to their children.

The lawsuit, which also features LGBT rights group Equality Florida as a plaintiff, comes after a recent incident where Cathy Pareto and Karla Arguello, who were among the first same-sex couples to be married in Florida, faced being told by the hospital in which they had just welcomed their baby daughter that they couldn’t both have their names on their daughter’s birth certificate. 

Two other same-gender couples join the suit and say they have also faced this roadblock to their constitutionally protected parental rights. In addition, the suit claims that the Florida Bureau of Vital Statistics is still routinely refusing to recognize parenting rights that should be available now that same-gender marriage is legal, something that heterosexual partners are afforded as standard. 

In a press release Equality Florida says that it has repeatedly written to Attorney General Pam Bondi urging her to direct all state agencies to recognize and confer the rights associated with marriage, but she has not replied. As such, Bondi and the state of Florida faces yet another lawsuit.

“Attorney General Pam Bondi could have avoided yet another costly lawsuit by directing all state agencies to simply comply with the law. Instead she turned her back on repeated requests to take action,” Nadine Smith, Executive Director of Equality Florida, is quoted as saying. “Birth certificates are the first official document that represent a new born baby’s family. Having an inaccurate birth certificate hinders parents’ ability to take care of their child and access important legal benefits and protections. Denying our families this is not only spiteful and harmful, it is illegal.”

Florida is still notorious for having been the last state to retire its explicit ban on gay adoptions (Mississippi still has a de facto ban on gay adoptions, and activists are trying to have that repealed in the next few months), but Florida’s law on adoptions is very clear that the mother’s spouse has a right to be listed as a parent. Given that Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage became unenforceable in January of this year, a decision that has been affirmed by the Supreme Court of the United States, Bondi’s failure to properly ensure that state agencies are complying with the Supreme Court’s order is an oversight that directly harms same-sex couples and fails to protect their constitutional rights.

In this case, it means that the couples are denied the equal dignity and affirmation of their families, something that was at the heart of Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion on Obergefell when the court effectively legalized marriage equality nationwide. In addition though, there are practical issues that this denial of recognition creates: it means that the parent who isn’t listed cannot make medical decisions for her child, and cannot be recognized as a parent when signing up for day care or, perhaps even more crucially, government assistance programs.

“There isn’t a moment that goes by that I’m not thinking of the harm my children—my newborns—may face because we aren’t being treated like other families,” said Cathy Pareto in a statement. “All I want to do is love, protect, and provide the best opportunities for our children. The state’s refusal to recognize that they have two parents and to list both of us on the birth certificates is demeaning and hurtful. My children have two parents, and we should both be listed on their birth certificates.”

The lawsuit, which is being fought by the National Center of Lesbian Rights, demands that Florida’s Bureau of Vital Statistics and all state agencies comply with earlier state and federal court rulings and recognize married same-sex couples and their parental rights.

As I recently touched on when talking about Texas’ stand-off over same-sex marriage rights and spousal recognition on death certificates, this is one among many ways in which states are still refusing to comply with the Supreme Court ruling. In this case, however, there appears to be little in the way of legal arguments that Florida can use to argue against same-sex parent rights, so this lawsuit should be about mopping up the state agencies’ messes rather than an all out legal war.

Fortunately, there are many people in Florida who want to officially recognize that LGBT discrimination is wrong, with lawmakers from both ends of the political spectrum supporting a state level LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination law. Strictly speaking, such a law would not have prevented the denial of rights above but would have served to specifically highlight that Florida state does not allow discrimination of any kind against LGBTs, something that sadly the state administration still needs to hear.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.

108 comments

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Ricky T.
Ricky T2 years ago

A long time back, I was not so keen against the idea of gay parents. Now I'm fully behind the idea, after seeing some bad exampling of a minority of hetrosexual parents, I often feel that if the right gay parents came in to bring up children, they'd do a sound job.

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Quanta Kiran
Quanta Kiran2 years ago

ugh, please get on with it already so people can carry on with their lives! what the hell is the fuss about. why are the conservatives so scared of two consenting adults getting married!

you don't like gay marriage don't do it! please let everyone be equal before the law.

LBGQT people also deserve the right to choose to live unhappily ever after! :D
so why stand in their way?

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Vikram S.
Vikram S2 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Cyan Dickirs
Cyan Dickirs2 years ago

Regus cont'd Regus-Parental "rights" are initially based on biology and/or the claims of the mother as to fatherhood, marriage or not. Parental rights can be taken away by the government, and parental rights can be terminated voluntarily by the bio parent in giving the child for adoption. An orphan can be adopted, but his BC is not altered thereby.
There is NO sense in changing BC to ignore biology. Marriage does not confer legal parent status on a BC. Father can be "unknown". No female can be a sperm donor father, nor a male be an egg donor mother. Adoption is the only way to insure legal parent status to a non bio child.

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Cyan Dickirs
Cyan Dickirs2 years ago

Regus-you are wrong in many regards. The SSM ruling Is NOT explicitly or otherwise included in the Constitution. Neither is BOcare or RvW or anything else. Only if included in an amendment can it be included.
Regarding BC, adoption does not automatically "change" the BC. Some states issue new BC when a baby is adopted by a married couple or even a single person from a foreign country. The foreign country determines who can adopt. The state in which the adoption is recorded may or may not change the BC. In a closed adoption, the original BC and bio parents can be sealed. Many adopted children have, when they reach majority, demanded to see the original records, which in some states, is made available upon request, regardless of sealing.
Marriage may strengthen the case of adoption, but does not confer rights to become a legal parent of a non bio child. Only adoption can do that, even if the bio parent says father unknown. The mother is always known, unless a contract for surrogacy says the bio mother is different from the birth mother. That situation, whether a bio embryo is implanted in a surrogate or AI with the father's sperm has opened a can of legal worms that is still not consistently handled legally. What is consistent is that marriage to a non bio "parent" does not get that non bio spouse a BC "parent". Only adoption can make a parent out of a spouse whose sperm or egg was part of the child's genetic heritage. Parental "rights" are initially based on biology and/or

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Cyan Dickirs
Cyan Dickirs2 years ago

Marianne C. Hard cases make bad laws. the exceptions you cite are not relevant to the fact that bc have no relationship to marriage, but do prove that the rule exists, that birth does not require a marriage to identify bio father and bio mother. Adoption does not change the original BC, nor is marital status asked on bc records. The exceptions are dealt with on a case by case basis and some bc's are "sealed", even if the mother can or does identify the father.
Rights to be on a bc are NOT conferred by marriage. 2nd marriages do not change bc's, even in case of death. only adoption can confer parentage on non bio father or non bio mother

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Cyan Dickirs
Cyan Dickirs2 years ago

Parental rights are not confered by marriage. AI has muddied the legalities, but still has nothing to do with BC and marriage. Single women have children, even by AI. A genetic female can never be a father or genetically related to her lesbian partner's child.
A divorce or death does not render the original birth certificate invalid upon re marriage.
Marriage does not confer parentage. BC has nothing to do with marriage.
A Man married to a woman with whom he agrees to AI or not, or whose wife gets pregnant by another man, if he wants the legal responsibility of parentage of that child, would be wise to adopt it, just in case he gets a divorce from the woman, so he can have parental rights, if he wants them, in case of divorce or death. Conversely, without adoption, the man who is not genetically related to the child can, in event of death or divorce, can deny parentage on grounds of fraud (not genetically related), unless there is a contract in which he agreed to AI. For a lesbian or homosexual "spouse" to be a parent, legally, to a child that is not genetically related to him/her, adoption is required.

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Janis K.
Janis K2 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Renee M.
Renee M2 years ago

Just do the right thing! Both parents must be listed on that birth certificate for so many reasons. Protection of those children and their families is absolutely necessary and so very important.

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