Metro Weekly

South Carolina’s birth certificate policy for same-sex parents ruled unconstitutional

Policy leaves same-sex couples in lurch, unable to make important decisions regarding their children

Photo: WiLPrZ, via Wikimedia.

A federal court in South Carolina has ruled that the state’s policy of refusing to list both same-sex parents on their children’s birth certificates is unconstitutional.

Casy and Jacqueline Carson, a married lesbian couple, were married in April 2014 in Washington, D.C., prior to the legalization of same-sex marriage in the Palmetto State. After they were married, Jacquie gave birth to twins, but the couple was issued birth certificates listing Jacquie as the mother and “No Father Listed” in the space designated for the other parent’s name.

South Carolina’s Department of Health and Environmental Control previously insisted that it would only issue birth certificates listing both same-sex spouses if the couples in question obtained a second-parent adoption or a court order — something not required of different-sex spouses. But the Carsons couldn’t afford the fees for a second-parent adoption. Without accurate birth certificates, the Carsons had trouble accessing Casy’s Veterans Administration and Social Security benefits, which she earned during her time as an active-duty member of the National Guard. The Carsons also worried about whether Casy would be able to make medical decisions for the twins in the case of an accident.

Enlisting the help of Lambda Legal, the Carsons sued Catherine Heigel, in her official capacity as the director of DHEC and State Registrar of Vital Statistics, alleging that South Carolina’s policy regarding birth certificates for children of same-sex couples is discriminatory.

“[T]he Court declares Defendant’s failure to treat same-sex spouses in the same manner she treats opposite-sex spouses in the issuance of birth certificates violates Plaintiffs’ rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution,” U.S. District Judge Mary Geiger Lewis wrote in her opinion. “More specifically, this Court refuses to countenance Defendant’s refusal to name both Plaintiffs on their twins’ birth certificates. Defendant’s present practice is violative of Plantiffs’ fundamental right to marriage and other protected liberties.”

The Carsons must now work out an agreement with the state on how to obtain corrected birth certificates for their children, and the details of a new policy that will allow other same-sex couples to obtain accurate birth certificates for their children.

Lambda Legal has been active in other cases where same-sex parents have sought to have themselves listed as legal parents on their children’s birth certificates, and has successfully obtained favorable rulings in Iowa, North Carolina, and Wisconsin.

“We are thrilled with the Court’s ruling, which settles that the Carson family and others like them are entitled to the critical safety and security that a birth certificate provides,” Tara Borelli, counsel at Lambda Legal, said in a statement celebrating the South Carolina victory. “An inaccurate birth certificate causes real trouble in a family’s day-to-day life — everything from a parent not being able to enroll a child in school to not being able to authorize basic medical care. That discrimination is now coming to an end in South Carolina: this ruling makes clear that all South Carolina families deserve the security of an accurate birth certificate that lists both parents.”

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com