Iowa Supreme Court hears argument in co-parent birth certificate case

by on December 19, 2012  •  In Family law

Last week, the Iowa Supreme Court heard arguments in Gartner v. Iowa Department of Health, in which a married lesbian couple is contesting the state’s refusal to co-list them as parents. The outcome in this case will signal whether the Iowa Supreme Court, which ruled in 2009 that same-sex couples must be allowed to marry, will be less receptive to gay discrimination claims now that three of the Justices who joined the marriage opinion were defeated when they ran for retention in 2010.

From the Des Moines Register:

Iowa Supreme Court justices were urged Tuesday to uphold a Polk County judge’s decision that required the state to list both parents on the birth certificates of children born as part of a same-sex marriage.

Camilla Taylor, marriage project director for advocacy group Lambda Legal, said same-sex parents need the immediacy and permanency offered by being declared a legal parent of their children.

The exclusion of one parent from a birth certificate forces an unfair requirement that same-sex spouses either go through expensive and time-consuming adoptions or face an uncertain legal status in cases where the biological parent is unable to make decisions, Taylor said.

Those comments came as part of Tuesday’s oral arguments in a lawsuit brought by Melissa and Heather Gartner against the Iowa Department of Public Health after that agency refused in 2009 to list both names on the birth certificate of their daughter, Mackenzie.

Polk County District Judge Eliza Ovrom ruled in the couple’s favor in January, finding that the state had failed to properly follow the 2009 court case that legalized same-sex marriage in Iowa.

State administrators are bound by 2009’s Varnum v. Brien to interpret laws in a way that gives “full access to the institution of marriage,” Ovrom wrote.

“Pursuant to Varnum v. Brien, where a married woman gives birth to a baby conceived through use of an anonymous sperm donor, the Department of Public Health should place her same-sex spouse’s name on the child’s birth certificate without requiring the spouse to go through an adoption proceeding,” Ovrom concluded. “Petitioners have proven the Department’s actions are in violation of law and based on an erroneous interpretation of the law.”

Iowa lawyers appealed.

Deputy Iowa Attorney General Julie Pottorff argued Tuesday that the Varnum decision shouldn’t apply to an area such as birth certificates, where biological differences provide a solid basis for the state to treat same- and different-gendered couples differently.

“Only opposite-sex couples can conceive a child,” Pottorff said.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *