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Iowa judge orders new birth certificate with married lesbian parent’s names

Heather (left) and Melissa Gartner, with daughter Mackenzie.

Heather (left) and Melissa Gartner, with daughter Mackenzie. Des Moines Register

DES MOINES — A Polk County, Iowa judge on Wednesday ruled that the Iowa Department of Public Health must issue a new birth certificate in the names of a lesbian couple who are the parents of a now 2-year-old girl.

Des Moines Register

Heather (left) and Melissa Gartner, with daughter Mackenzie.

Mackenzie Gartner was born in September 2009 to Heather and Melissa Gartner, a lesbian couple who legally married in Iowa before she was born — the couple conceived with the use of anonymous donor sperm.

After receiving a birth certificate that listed Heather as the only parent, the couple requested a corrected birth certificate listing both spouses.

But the Iowa’s Department of Public Health denied the request on the ground that Melissa is not Mackenzie’s genetic parent.

In May 2010, Lambda Legal filed suit on behalf of Mackenzie Gartner to require the Department of Public Health to list both spouses as parents on the birth certificate.

According to Lambda Legal, the Department of Health violated Iowa state law, which requires the state to issue a birth certificate to a child born to married parents listing both spouses as parents even when a mother’s spouse has no genetic connection to the child.

In his 12-page ruling, Polk County District Judge Eliza Ovrom stopped short of declaring a constitutional right for same-sex parents to be named automatically on newborns’ birth certificates, but did fault faults state officials for failing to correctly interpret older Iowa laws in light of the April 2009 Iowa Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriages.

State administrators are bound by the 2009 case to interpret laws in a way that gives “full access to the institution of marriage,” Ovrom wrote.

“The Department’s refusal to place Melissa’s name on the birth certificate frustrates the purpose of the law to recognize the legitimacy of a child born to a marriage, and to establish the parents’ obligation to support the child…” the judge added.

“An accurate birth certificate is essential for a child’s physical, financial, and emotional security,” said Camilla Taylor, Marriage Project Director for Lambda Legal.

“Birth certificates document legal parentage, not biology. Children are entitled to accurate birth certificates so that their legal parents can enroll them in school, make medical decisions for them in an emergency, and ensure that they can benefit from an employer’s health insurance plan, among many other reasons,” Taylor said.

“We are thrilled that our daughter will now receive same respect and treatment that every other child born to married parents receives,” said Heather Gartner. “Every child faces challenges in life, but being unfairly burdened by the state and deprived of the ability to show who her legal parents are should not be one of them.”

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