Victory! Iowa Supreme Court Orders State to Treat Children of Lesbian Couples as Having 2 Parents at Birth

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May 3, 2013
The Gartners in 2010.

The Iowa Supreme Court today ordered the state health department to provide an accurate two-parent birth certificate to all children born to lesbian married parents.

The Court built upon its 2009 ruling in Lambda Legal's landmark case Varnum v. Brien, which ordered that same-sex couples and their families be treated equally under state law, and won the right for same-sex couples to marry.

Lambda Legal represents Mackenzie Gartner, who was born in September 2009 to Heather and Melissa Gartner, a lesbian couple who legally married in Iowa before she was born. After receiving a birth certificate that listed Heather as the only parent, the couple requested a corrected birth certificate listing both spouses as Mackenzie's parents.

Iowa's Department of Public Health denied the request on the ground that Melissa is not Mackenzie's genetic parent. However, Iowa law establishes that a child born to married parents is the legitimate child of both spouses regardless of genetic relationship, and requires the Department of Public Health to list both spouses as parents on the birth certificate accordingly.

In May 2010, Lambda Legal filed suit on behalf of Mackenzie Gartner. In January 2012, the Iowa District Court for Polk County ordered the health department to issue an accurate birth certificate to Mackenzie, which it did while also appealing that court's decision.

In today’s decision, Justice David Wiggins wrote:

By naming the nonbirthing 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. Therefore, the only explanation for not listing the nonbirthing lesbian spouse on the birth certificate is stereotype or prejudice.

Heather Gartner says:

We are both thrilled and relieved. We just want our child to have the same respect and treatment that every other child born to married parents receives, and now we can move forward.

Camilla Taylor, Lambda Legal's Marriage Project Director, adds:

The Court meant what it said in the Varnum decision: Same-sex couples and their families must be treated equally under the law. Same-sex couples and their children do not get marriage “lite.” 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.

This is great news for the Gartner family and for the long list of children who have been born to married same-sex parents since 2009 and who have been waiting for a two-parent birth certificate that reflects their family.

Iowa now joins every other state that permits same-sex couples to marry, enter into civil unions, or enter comprehensive domestic partnerships, in issuing birth certificates to children of same-sex couples in a legal relationship on the same terms as to children of married different-sex couples.

Read the decision.

Learn more about the case.

Related: Buntemeyer v. Iowa Dept. of Public Health, a Lambda Legal case in which a legally married same-sex couple in Iowa gave birth to a stillborn baby and was issued a death certificate by the health department with one of the mothers’ names removed with correction fluid.