In Brief: A Note from the Executive Director

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February 23, 2012

If you haven’t heard the shocking story of our plaintiffs Jenny and Jessica Buntemeyer yet, prepare to be outraged.

The Iowa couple met and fell in love while serving in Iraq, and married in Iowa in 2010. Last year, Jessica became pregnant through in vitro fertilization, but tragically their son Brayden was stillborn. Still in shock, the grieving couple filled out the paperwork for a death certificate, listing each of their names as parents in the spaces provided.

Then in January, the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) added insult to injury. They mailed the Buntemeyers a death certificate with Jenny’s name erased—someone literally whited out her name as if she had never existed.

As Jessica put it, “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.”

Any way you look at it, IDPH’s actions are wrong. Death certificates, like birth certificates and other vital records, document legal parentage and not biology. Iowa law has always required both spouses' names to go on a child's birth or death certificate regardless of biology. And in all other jurisdictions where same-sex couples can legally marry, the state issues accurate vital records that treat both spouses as legal parents, just as they would treat different-sex couples. Why should Iowa be the only holdout?

Even more egregious is the fact that IDPH’s actions came only a week after a court decision in another Lambda Legal case that ordered IDPH to issue a birth certificate naming both same-sex spouses as parents. The court ruled that Iowa’s birth certificate statute must be interpreted in a gender-neutral way. (IDPH has appealed that ruling.)

And so, Lambda Legal is suing IDPH—again. But that’s not all we’re doing. We’ve also organized a petition demanding that IDPH Director Marianette Miller-Meeks issue an accurate death certificate for Brayden, listing both his mothers. More than 6,000 people have signed the petition so far—that’s thousands of emails in Dr. Miller-Meeks’ inbox urging her to take immediate action.

If you haven’t done so yet, sign our petition and add your voice. Tell your friends and family to add their signatures. Let Dr. Miller-Meeks know that we will not be erased. We will not be discouraged by the cruel and demeaning acts of heartless bureaucrats. And we will continue to fight.

Our hearts go out to Jenny and Jessica Buntemeyer. No family should have to endure what they have gone through. We at Lambda Legal vow to keep fighting IDPH in the court of law and in the court of public opinion to prevent this injustice from ever happening again, and to ensure that same-sex couples and their families are treated with the same respect and dignity that all families deserve.