August 4, 2011 | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Sibley Hospital disputes lesbians’ allegation of discrimination

A spokesperson for D.C.’s Sibley Memorial Hospital disputed a claim by three members of the D.C. City Council that the hospital appears to have discriminated against a married lesbian couple last month by making it more difficult for them to obtain a birth certificate for their newborn child.

In a July 28 letter to Sibley Hospital President Robert Sloan, Council members Phil Mendelson (D-At-large), David Catania (I-At-Large), and Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) said they were contacted by a lesbian mother who had given birth at Sibley. The Council members said the mother told them the hospital had a policy of requiring married same-sex couples to “prove the legitimacy of their relationship, a burden not placed on opposite-sex couples, before they can obtain their newborn’s birth certificate.”

According to the letter, the hospital informed the lesbian couple that same-sex couples were required to provide a marriage certificate to verify their marriage while opposite-sex couples were “presumed married” and were not required to provide additional information to document their marriage.

“This requirement, whether isolated to this incident or an aspect of hospital policy, is wrong, discriminatory, and antithetical to the District’s laws providing equal rights and equal dignity to all residents,” the three Council members said in their letter.

Sheilah Roy, Sibley’s director of public relations and marketing, told the Blade on Monday that the hospital was following a directive it received from the D.C. Office of Vital Records. Roy said the directive came in an e-mail dated Jan. 22, 2010, and calls on all city hospitals to verify the marriage of same-sex couples before providing those couples with a birth certificate of a child bearing the names of both members of the couple.

“The parents must provide a copy of the certified marriage license or domestic partnership registration,” Roy quoted the directive as saying. “Attention must be paid to the relationship between the partners,” she quoted the directive as saying. “Close relatives registered as domestic partners may not have the second partner added [to the birth certificate] when the partner is related by blood.”

The last sentence Roy quoted pertains to a provision in the D.C. domestic partnership law that allows blood relatives, such as a parent and an adult child or siblings, to become domestic partners.

“In other words, it says that we are required to ask for a marriage license or domestic partner registration,” Roy said. “So we were following what we were told to do by the D.C. government.”

American University law professor Nancy Polikoff, a recognized expert on family law pertaining to same-sex couples, said the city’s domestic partnership law and a separate parental rights law require that same-sex couples be treated the same as opposite-sex couples in all areas, including the issuance of birth certificates by hospitals. She said the directive issued by the city’s Office of Vital Records, if correctly described by the Sibley spokesperson, appears to be an incorrect interpretation existing D.C. law.

Mahlori Isaacs, a spokesperson for the D.C. Department of Health, of which the Office of Vital Records is a part, said she would make inquires to confirm the accuracy of the directive that the Office of Vital Records sent to Sibley and other city hospitals.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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