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Lambda Legal sues Iowa for erasing lesbian mother’s name from baby’s death certificate

Thursday, February 9, 2012
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Lambda Legal on Wednesday filed suit against the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) on behalf of a married lesbian couple from Iowa who are seeking an accurate death certificate for their stillborn baby, Brayden.

Lambda Legal

Jenny and Jessica Buntemeyer

Following the loss of their son, Jenny and Jessica Buntemeyer filled out the spaces on the death certificate form for both parents, and indicated that they were married. But when the IDPH sent the couple a death certificate, Jenny’s name had been erased.

“This is an egregious display of insensitivity and disregard for Iowa law, which states that the spousal presumption of parentage applies to children born to same-sex spouses in the same manner it applies to children of different-sex spouses,” said Camilla Taylor, National Marriage Project Director for Lambda Legal.

“A different-sex married couple grieving a similar loss would receive a two-parent death certificate with no questions asked. Death certificates and other vital records like birth certificates document legal parentage, and not biology. To white out a mother’s name from her stillborn baby’s death certificate is cruel to a family that is already devastated.”

Jenny Buntemeyer and Jessica Aiken of Davenport met in 2008 while serving in Iraq. The couple married in Iowa on October 8, 2010, and remain in the Army Reserves.

After planning a family together, Jessica became pregnant via in vitro fertilization and an anonymous donor. On October 21, 2011, Jessica gave birth in Iowa to Brayden Bruce Buntemeyer, at 30 weeks’ gestation. He died in utero prior to labor after his umbilical cord became wound around his neck.

On the fetal death certificate form, Jessica filled out the boxes for “mother” and Jenny filled out the boxes marked “father,” the only option on the form for a second parent. On January 12, 2012, IDPH issued them a death certificate on which someone had erased Jenny’s name and identifying information, according to the suit.

“After the loss of our son, Jenny and I were just trying to process our grief and get through it together,” said Jessica Buntemeyer. “To erase Jenny’s name from the death certificate was like trying to erase all the love, commitment and work we had both put into planning a family. We were in complete shock.”

In January, in another Lambda Legal case, Gartner v. Iowa Dept of Public Health, a Polk County trial court affirmed that the spousal presumption of “legitimacy” applies equally to children born to married same-sex couples, and ruled that Iowa’s birth certificate statute must be interpreted in a gender-neutral way.

The court ordered IDPH to issue a birth certificate to the child in Gartner listing both same-sex spouses as parents. IDPH recently appealed that ruling.

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