Metro Weekly

Federal court: Utah must recognize lesbian couple as legal parents

Judge rules Utah's assisted reproduction statute must apply equally to same-sex and opposite-sex couples

U.S. Courthouse for the District of Utah (Credit: Swilsonmc, via Wikimedia Commons).
U.S. Courthouse for the District of Utah (Credit: Swilsonmc, via Wikimedia Commons).

A federal judge in Utah has ruled that the Office of Vital Records and Statistics must recognize a same-sex married couple as the legal parents of their child.

U.S. District Judge Dee Benson, a George H.W. Bush appointee, ruled on Wednesday that Utah’s existing assisted reproduction parentage statute must apply equally to same-sex and opposite-sex couples. As written, the husband of a woman who conceives a child with donated sperm is automatically listed on the birth certificate and recognized as the child’s legal parent, even without a biological connection.

The couple in question, Angie and Kami Roe, both sought to be recognized as the legal parents of their daughter, Lucy. But the state interpreted the statute literally and would not recognize Angie as Lucy’s parent because she was not Kami’s husband. Instead, the women were forced to go through an expensive and time-consuming adoption process. The national ACLU and ACLU of Utah both stepped in and brought the lawsuit against the Office of Vital Statistics on behalf of the Roe family.

Judge Benson determined that, due to the Supreme Court’s recent decision legalizing marriage equality, the statute on assisted reproduction should apply equally to the Roes as it would to any heterosexual couple. Benson also granted a requested preliminary injunction to allow Angie to immediately be recognized as Lucy’s parent. 

“The court’s decision makes clear that Utah must provide the same benefits, protections and obligations to married same-sex couple that it provides to every other married couple,” Joshua Block, a senior staff attorney with the national ACLU’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and HIV Project, said in a statement. “Utah’s assisted conception statutes were passed to ensure that children have the protection of two legal parents from the moment they are born. The state could not identify any reason at all to explain why it should be able to deny that same protection to Angie and Kami’s family.”

Leah Farrell, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Utah, added that the injunction granted by Benson was “nice and broad” in clarifying that the state’s assisted reproduction statute applies equally to same-sex couples. She said that the Roes are currently moving forward with other actions to obtain an amended birth certificate that will list both of them as Lucy’s parents.

“We are overjoyed by the ruling,” Angie Roe said in a statement. “We are the same parents walking out of the courtroom today as we were walking in, but to no longer be discriminated against and to be recognized as my daughter’s mother by the state of Utah, that’s an amazing feeling.”

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