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Iowa judge: Lesbian couple should receive accurate death certificate for stillborn child

Tuesday, December 18, 2012
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DES MOINES, Iowa — An Iowa court has ordered the state’s Department of Public Health to give a married lesbian couple an accurate death certificate for their son, Brayden, who was stillborn in October 2011.

District Court Judge Robert A. Hutchison said the department must issue the death certificate to Jenny and Jessica Buntemeyer, listing both of their names as Brayden’s parents — the department had previously erased Jenny’s name from the original certificate.

Jessica and Jenny Buntemeyer
via: Lambda Legal

Attorneys for the Department of Public Health had argued that the women could not be considered as “mother” and “father,” respectively, on their son’s death certificate, although the couple had checked those boxes and written out their names. Officials had returned the final death certificate with Jennifer’s name erased from the box she had marked listing her under ‘father.’

The couple said they completed the form that way because it was the only option on the form for a second parent.

In his ruling, Hutchison wrote that the Department had “unconstitutionally interfered with a same-sex wife’s ability to receive the benefits of a certificate. A categorical refusal to register a mother’s wife on a Certificate violates equal protection. DPH is required to modify its Certificate so as to identify both petitioners here as parents.”

Hutchison referred to Lambda Legal’s 2009 case affirming the freedom for same-sex couples to marry in Iowa, and ruled that “both partners in a same-sex relationship can also qualify as parents, at least in the ordinary and common sense.”

The 20-page decision is currently under review, according to a spokesperson for the State Attorney General Tom Miller’s office, who represented the Health Department in the legal challenge.

“In this case, the state was not only denying that Jenny and Jessica are both mothers, it was trying to erase Jenny from the family,” said Camille Taylor, an attorney for the LGBT advocacy group Lambda Legal and who represents the Buntemeyers.

“A death certificate for Brayden is their sole legal record of his existence and his significance to their family,” said Taylor.

The ruling came just one day after the Attorney General’s office represented the health department at a related hearing in front of the Iowa Supreme Court. In that case, Des Moines couple Heather Martin Gartner and Melissa Gartner are suing the state to force them to include both their names on the birth certificate of their daughter, Mackenzie, reported the Sioux City Journal.

Taylor also represents the Gartners.

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