Friday, May 3, 2013

Iowa Supreme Court: Iowa Dept of Public Health Must Include Both Married Lesbian Moms on Birth Certificates

Back in January 2012, a Polk County district court ruled that the Iowa Department of Public Health cannot refuse to place the names of both married moms on the birth certificates of their children. Previously, lesbian non-birth moms had to go through the costly process of second-parent adoption -- essentially proving to a social worker and judge that they are fit to raise their own kids. Then "Varnum v. Brien" happened in 2009 and same-sex couples gained the ability to legally marry in this state. With heterosexual couples, both married parents are listed on their kids' birth certificates regardless of birth heritage.

The lesbian moms in this case argued that both moms should appear on their daughter's birth certificate, with the help of Lambda Legal. the Polk County district court judge agreed. the IDPH appealed for more clarification. And the Iowa Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of the lesbian mom by a margin of 6-0!:
Justice David Wiggins said the state government "has been unable to identify a constitutionally adequate justification" for treating lesbian parents differently than parents of opposite sex. He said the only explanation for doing so was "stereotype or prejudice" that violated their rights to be treated equally under the Iowa Constitution.

"It is important for our laws to recognize that married lesbian couples who have children enjoy the same benefits and burdens as married opposite-sex couples who have children," Wiggins wrote.

The court's ruling appears to be limited to lesbian couples who use sperm donors to conceive children. Taylor said using sperm donors is by far the most common way for same-sex couples to conceive, and the court may have to decide another day how to treat lesbian or gay male couples who have children through surrogate mothers...

The department explained that its system only recognized biological mothers and fathers. Its lawyers later argued the goal was to ensure vital records accurately reflected a child's biological parents and helped establish paternity to ensure financial support of the child.

But Wiggins said those claims were undercut because the department recognizes both parents of opposite-sex couples who give birth through sperm donors, and for same-sex couples who complete the adoption process.

"These realities demonstrate that the disparate treatment of married lesbian couples is less effective and efficient, and that some other unarticulated reason, such as stereotype or prejudice, may explain the real objective of the state," he wrote.
This ruling is great on at least three levels. First, it's wonderful for the Gartner family, who have successfully led the fight to get both parents on their daughter's birth certificate. It's also great for Iowa's other lesbian moms who build their families through sperm donation.

Secondly, it's great that the four Iowa Supreme Court justices who had ruled in the 2009 "Varnum v. Brien" case continue to consistently support those constitutional principles despite ongoing attacks by political and social conservatives

Lastly, it's cool that the new justices also ruled with the rest of the Iowa Supreme Court in this case. There were no dissenting opinions, though one of the new justices didn't participate.

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