Thursday, July 25, 2013

Is the Iowa Department of Public Health Still Discriminating Against Married Lesbian Moms? // Update: IDPH Responds

(Originally written on 07/24/13): Ever since gay and lesbian couples began marrying here in Iowa, there have been problems with the State of Iowa treating our families equally. Probably the biggest problem area has involved the Iowa Department of Public Health and their refusal to list both married lesbian moms on the birth certificates of their children. One lesbian couple took the IDPH to court back in 2011 over this issue. In January 2012, a Polk County district court ruled that the IDPH cannot discriminate against married lesbian couples when it comes to birth certificates and this decision was unanimously affirmed by the Iowa Supreme Court back in early May 2013.

I learned last night that the IDPH is allegedly still making it difficult for married lesbian mothers to list both parents on the birth certificates of their children. Janelle Rettig, the current chair of the Johnson County Board of Supervisors shared the following story on her Facebook page. It was told to her by a local lesbian couple with a newborn baby. Rettig gave me permission to pass along this story:
Since the Iowa Supreme Court had heard this case, and made the decision in early May, we felt as though this would be a breeze. No needed changes to the birth certificate, I completed it as "spouse". We had even contacted our lawyer prior to the birth to make sure we did not have to go through any legal paperwork this time around.

To our dismay, last Thursday we received the birth certificate with only Joanne's name listed. No information was given as to why mine was not listed as the parent. I immediately called the Iowa Dept. of Public Health and asked why as a legally married lesbian couple, both of our names were not listed on the birth certificate as the court ruling in early May stated must happen.

The woman I talked to, and she confirmed it with another woman above her in the office, stated that this did not happen because a cover letter has not been completed and approved. Not only this, but they wanted Joanne's name & address so they could send an affidavit to fill out and return. She didn't know if I needed to send the original birth certificate back at that time, nor did she know how long this process would take.

I was appalled and infuriated! This has been decided for nearly 3 months, and we are being discriminated against because of a cover letter! I know we are not the only couple in Iowa that this has happened to over the past couple of months, but we want what has been decided to be enforced. To know that I am not legally recognized as a parent to my child because of this is infuriating and very sad. Please feel free to pass this along to anyone you feel can help remedy this situation.
Rettig noted that another county official heard a similar story from another married lesbian couple with a newborn baby a few weeks ago.

Rettig is encouraging any other married female same-sex couple who is experiencing similar troubles with getting accurate birth certificates for their newborn babies to contact the Lambda Legal help-line at 312-663-4413.

Updated on 07/25/13: KCRG reported today on this story. The mothers involved in this case are Lindsey Clark and Joanne Abbas of Iowa City. It was noted again that there have been other married lesbian moms who have experienced similar difficulties with obtaining birth certificates that include both mothers on the birth certificates of their newborn babies.

KCRG reports that the IDPH has responded to this situation:
Polly Carver-Kimm, spokesperson for the Iowa Department of Public Health, said in an email the state recently finalized a new birth sheet to improve the application process for same-sex couples.

“The District Court decision in the Gartner case [May ruling] included a stay preventing any changes for any other child’s birth certificate pending the Supreme Court appeal of the case. On July 8 the District Court issued the order lifting the stay. We have been working on processes for hospitals and the development of a birth work sheet for lesbian couples when one of the parties to the marriage is the birth mother. The new birth worksheet and the instructions were sent to the hospitals via e-mail [Wednesday],” she wrote.
It looks like the Clark/Abbas family won't be included in this new streamlined birth certificate process given the timeline listed above, though I'm guessing they could get this administratively waived with a little help from an attorney. It will be interesting if it continues to be difficult for married lesbians to obtain birth certificates for their newborn babies in the future.

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