Two lesbian moms — one a veteran — won a legal victory yesterday when a U.S. District Court in South Carolina ruled that it is unconstitutional for the state to deny accurate birth certificates to children of married same-sex couples.
Casy and Jacqueline Carson were high school sweethearts who have been together since 2011. They married in April 2014 in Washington, D.C., before their home state of South Carolina recognized marriage for same-sex couples. When Jacqueline gave birth, they indicated on hospital forms that they were married, but then received birth certificates listing Jacqueline as the “Mother” and “No Father Listed” in the space for the other parent.
The state Department of Health and Environmental Control had previously said it would only issue birth certificates listing both same-sex spouses as parents if the couples got an adoption or a court order—an extra burden not required of different-sex spouses.
The couple could not afford to have Casy do a second-parent adoption, however. Casy is a National Guard veteran who served until leaving active duty in 2013 because of a serious injury. Jacqueline is a teacher. Incorrect birth certificates meant that the couple had trouble accessing Casy’s Veterans Administration and Social Security benefits for their children. Additionally, they worried that Casy could be kept from getting either routine or emergency medical care for the twins and that their children would feel stigmatized when they were old enough to understand their birth certificates.
They filed a lawsuit last May, backed by Lambda Legal and South Carolina Equality. In yesterday’s ruling, Judge Mary Geiger Lewis wrote that the state’s refusal to put both moms on the birth certificates “violates Plaintiffs’ rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution…. Defendant’s present practice is violative of Plaintiffs’ fundamental right to marriage and other protected liberties.”
This victory is especially heartening since yesterday, too, the National Center for Lesbian Rights appealed to the U. S. Supreme Court in a case seeking to overturn an Arkansas decision that denied same-sex parents the right to be on their children’s birth certificates. Whether the Supreme Court would take this decision into account in deciding whether to take the Arkansas case, much less rule on it, remains unknown, but it seems to me it can’t hurt.
Finally, my usual word of caution when reporting on anything related to birth certificates: LGBTQ legal experts still say second-parent adoptions are the most secure way of ensuring your legal parentage, even if both parents are on their children’s birth certificates. As Lambda noted in a press release, however, “While couples should still undertake second parent adoptions if they can, their children deserve accurate birth certificates from the start.”