The Iowa Supreme Court ruled unanimously today that the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) must provide an accurate two-parent birth certificate to any child born to married lesbian parents in Iowa. Same-sex couples have been able to marry in Iowa since April 2009—but the IDPH has refused to recognize both members of a same-sex couple as parents of children born to them. They can do so no longer.
When Heather Martin Gartner and Melissa Gartner had their daughter in the fall of 2009, IDPH only listed Heather, the biological mother, on the birth certificate, despite the fact that the Gartners had filled out the form indicating they were legally married and both the moms. ”
As the court documents state:
The Department refused to place the name of the nonbirthing spouse in a lesbian marriage on the birth certificate without the spouse first adopting the child, pursuant to Iowa Code section 144.23(1). The Department indicated: “The system for registration of births in Iowa currently recognizes the biological and ‘gendered’ roles of ‘mother’ and ‘father,’ grounded in the biological fact that a child has one biological mother and one biological father . . . .”
The Court found this was unconstitutional, however:
The Department has been unable to identify a constitutionally adequate justification for refusing to list on a child’s birth certificate the nonbirthing spouse in a lesbian marriage, when the child was conceived using an anonymous sperm donor and was born to the other spouse during the marriage. . . .
We affirm the judgment of the district court ordering the Department to issue a birth certificate naming Melissa Gartner as the parent of the child, Mackenzie Jean Gartner, because section 144.13(2) with its limited application allowing for only “the name of the husband” to appear on the birth certificate is unconstitutional as applied to a married lesbian couple who has a child born to them during their marriage. We also order on remand that the district court lift the stay as to other married lesbian couples.
This follows an earlier ruling from an Iowa district court that required IDPH to issue an accurate death certificate for the stillborn son of Jenny and Jessica Buntemeyer, listing both of their names as parents. Lambda Legal helped both the Gartners and the Buntemeyers win their cases. Congratulations to them and to all of the families in Iowa who will benefit from these rulings.
I want especially to note how the Court struck down IDPH’s argument that birth records should identify biological parents. The court brought up different-sex couples who use sperm donors:
First, we understand that ensuring the accuracy of birth records for identification of biological parents is a laudable goal. However, the present system does not always accurately identify the biological father. When a married opposite-sex couple conceives a child using an anonymous sperm donor, the child’s birth certificate reflects the male spouse as the father, not the biological father who donated the sperm. In that situation, the Department is not aware the couple conceived the child by an anonymous sperm donor.
That’s a great reason we need to build bridges and form allies across all types of family structures. We’re all in this together.
It’s also worth remembering, as more states enact marriage equality (including Rhode Island, just yesterday) and we move closer to a repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, that marriage and parenting rights are not the same thing. We may win marriage equality, as in Iowa, but still have to fight for parenting rights; and we should never forget that just as different-sex couples have parenting rights without necessarily being married, so too should same-sex couples. In the end, one hopes, fairness and equality and the best interests of the children will prevail.