The Iowa State Supreme Court on Friday issued a pro-gay adoption ruling that requires the names of both same-sex parents to appear on the birth certificates of their children — provided the couple is married.
In a unanimous 29-page decision, the seven justices ruled that the names of married lesbian parents — the birthing mother and non-birthing mother — must be shown on their child’s birth certificate.
Justice David Wiggins, who wrote the decision, based the ruling on the same reasoning the led to the court’s 2009 decision to establish same-sex marriage in the Hawkeye State.
“By naming the non-birthing spouse on the birth certificate of a married lesbian couple’s child, the child is ensured support from that parent and the parent establishes fundamental legal rights at the moment of birth,” Wiggins wrote. “Therefore, the only explanation for not listing the non-birthing lesbian spouse on the birth certificate is stereotype or prejudice.”
In the wake of the ruling, Iowa now has policy that accords with every other state that has marriage equality or allows some kind of legal relationship recognition for same-sex couples. According to Lambda Legal, all those states require that birth certificates for same-sex parents in a legal relationship be the same as they are for married opposite-sex parents.
The case, Gartner v. Newton, was filed in 2010 by Lambda Legal on behalf of Mackenzie Gartner, who was born in September 2009 to Heather and Melissa Gartner, a lesbian couple who legally wed in Iowa. After receiving a birth certificate that listed Heather, the birth mother, as the only parent, the couple requested a corrected birth certificate listing both of them as Mackenzie’s parents. However, Iowa’s Department of Public Health denied the request on the ground that Melissa isn’t Mackenzie’s genetic parent.
In January 2012, the Iowa District Court for Polk County determined that state law required the department to issue a birth certificate with both lesbian parents’ names to Mackenzie. The department did so while appealing the court’s decision.
The Supreme Court didn’t interpret state law in the same way as the lower court did, but ruled that the equal protection under the Iowa State Constitution invalidates that law and requires both names of same-sex parents to appear on their child’s birth certificate.
Camilla Taylor, a marriage project director for Lambda Legal, said the Supreme Court’s ruling reinforces what it earlier determined in the 2009 ruling for marriage equality: same-sex couples must be treated equally under the law.
“Same-sex couples and their children do not get marriage-lite,” Taylor said. “Marriage is marriage and equal is equal. We take for granted that a husband is the father of a child born to his wife through reproductive technology — regardless of whether he is his child’s genetic parent. The same marital protection for both parents’ relationships to their child holds true for same-sex couples and their children.”
Nancy Politkoff, a lesbian and law professor at American University Washington College of Law, acknowledged the ruling will be helpful for same-sex parents in Iowa, but expressed frustration over its limitations, including fact that it won’t help unmarried lesbian couples in Iowa.
“The law we have in the District of Columbia is that when a lesbian couple has a child through donor insemination, they are both parents, they get their names on the birth certificates — and they don’t have to be married, and that’s very clear,” Politkoff said. “So our law helps all lesbian couples having children in D.C. and what has been obtained in Iowa helps only married lesbian couples. Our approach is a better approach because heterosexual couples don’t have to be married to have both people recognized as parents, and same-sex couples shouldn’t have to either.”