A federal court has ruled that Wisconsin must issue accurate birth certificates for children of married same-sex couples. Yes, even more than a year after national marriage equality, we’re still having to go to court to protect our families.
The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin ruled that Wisconsin must issue an accurate birth certificate listing both Chelsea and Jessamy Torres, a married lesbian couple, as the parents of their son, and for all other married same-sex couples.
The couple, who live in Madison, were married in New York in September 2012, and about a year later, started to plan a family, said Lambda Legal, which represented the couple. Chelsea became pregnant after several attempts using assisted reproductive technology.
Her pregnancy was healthy overall—but when labor began, things started to go downhill. Chelsea was in labor for 72 hours and their son’s heart rate dropped dramatically at one point, requiring an emergency C-section. (Editorial note: The same thing happened to my spouse and son. It’s the most frightening thing in the world.) Their son was in intensive care for several days afterwards.
The hospital staff were welcoming, it seems, referring to Jessamy as “Big Mom” (she’s 6’3″) and Chelsea as “Little Mom,” (she’s 5’6”).
The staff then instructed Jessamy to fill out the “father” part of the birth certificate application. A couple of weeks later, Chelsea received a form from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services asking for confirmation of the information that was provided to generate a birth certificate. Jessamy was not mentioned at all, “effectively erasing her from the family in the eyes of the State” said Lambda Legal.
In September, Lambda Legal filed a motion for summary judgment, leading to today’s ruling in the family’s favor—and that of all Wisconsin same-sex parents and their children who need accurate birth certificates.
Lambda Staff Attorney Kyle Palazzolo noted that the scope of the decision was heartening: “While we brought this case solely on behalf of Jessamy, Chelsea, their son and certain other families who used reproductive technology to have children, the court emphasized that other Wisconsin families have been unfairly denied two-parent birth certificates, too. The court stated that the Wisconsin Department of Health Services should act quickly to issue corrected birth certificates to these children, and update their forms to respect same-sex couples and their families, or face future lawsuits.”
Lambda notes that they have also successfully litigated on behalf of married same-sex couples seeking accurate birth certificates for their children in Iowa and have filed a lawsuit on behalf of Melissa and Meredith Weiss, lesbian moms in North Carolina in a similar situation. A decision is pending. And Federal courts in Florida and Indiana have also recently ruled to apply the spousal presumption of parentage to married same-sex couples equally in those states.
Don’t forget, though, folks: Birth certificates are vital pieces of paperwork, but being on a child’s birth certificate alone may still not be enough for someone to be recognized as a parent in all jurisdictions and circumstances. Second-parent adoptions or court judgments of parentage are still recommended by many LGBTQ family law experts.