February 7, 2016

Supreme Court hears birth certificate case involving same-sex parents

The Iowa Supreme Court heard oral arguments Tuesday on a case where a lesbian couple sued the state saying both their names should be on the birth certificate of their child. A Polk County District Court judge ordered the state Health Department to put the names of Melissa Gartner and Heather Gartner of Des Moines on the birth certificate of the daughter who was conceived using an anonymous sperm donor.

The state appealed that decision. Deputy Attorney General Julie Pottorff said the case does not involve the same-sex marriage ruling — it focuses on the language in state law which determines what is required for information on the birth certificate.

“Just because of the fact of biology, same-sex couples could never conceive a child, and for that reason the Constitution analysis should end at the initial analysis concerns people who are really similarly situated,” Pottorff says. She was asked if the birth certificate is used to establish legal parent rights of a child.

“No, I think that overstates it. The birth certificate statute represents the duty of the department to collect vital statistics,” Pottorff said. “In a couple places in that chapter, the purpose of accuracy and integrity of records is mentioned. All they are really doing isn’t determining the legal relationship between the parent and the child, they are determining the facts of the birth.”

The two women argue that without both names on the birth certificate they face an undue burden by having to go through adoption to establish the parental rights. Pottorff does not agree.

“I think the adoption process has been overplayed, the burden of it exaggerated by opposing council, with all due respect,” Pottorff said. “One of the aspects of a second parent adoption or a stepparent adoption — which is a procedure that would applicable here — is that you have to establish the termination of the biological parent’s rights. That’s not a hurdle here since the father is an anonymous sperm donor.”

Pottorff says the birth certificate only gives parents limited rights and would mean that The lawyer for the two women, Camilla Taylor, said the lack of acknowledgment of both women who are married in Iowa on the birth certificate causes an undue burden on them.

“Heather and Melisa have already encountered some significant challenges in McKenzie’s first year of life, she was in an intensive care unit. And even though Melisa was the stay-at-home parent, Heather was forced to maintain an exhausting vigil by McKenzie’s bedside for fear that Melissa wouldn’t be respected as a parent and would be unable to make medical decisions,” Taylor said.

Taylor said the birth certificate should include both women’s names to protect their rights. “This presumption protects the child’s relationship to both of the spouses, it protects the child’s right of support from both parents,” Taylor said. A justice asked Taylor if both parents should be listed on the certificate regardless of the circumstances.

“The spousal presumption applies in all cases. The intent of the parties or how conception occurred, whether it occurred thorough extramarital relationship, whether it occurred through know or unknown donor insemination — the spousal presumption always hold true,” Taylor said.

“The information that may be required to rebut the spousal presumption is a very fact-driven analysis. And that would be performed through a lower court,” Taylor said. Taylor is a member of the national gay rights advocate LAMBDA Legal which filed the lawsuit.

It is not known how long it will take the Iowa Supreme Court to issue a ruling on the case.

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