Metro Weekly

Same-sex couples challenge Florida’s discriminatory birth certificate policy

Lawsuit asks federal court to order Florida to recognize both parents on birth certificates

Florida state flag (Photo: Zscout370, via Wikimedia Commons).

Two Florida lesbian couples have asked a federal court to order officials to allow both sets of women to be listed as parents on their children’s birth certificates.

Under current Florida law, the Office of Vital Statistics must list a birth mother’s husband on the birth certificate. After marriage equality was legalized in January, the state was obligated to treat same-sex couples equally to opposite-sex couples, including listing both members of a couple as parents on a child’s birth certificate.

Yet despite repeated requests, the Office of Vital Statistics has refused to do so. In response, the two lesbian couples, along with Equality Florida Institute, filed a lawsuit in August challenging the office’s policy.

Wednesday’s filing asks the court to decide the case without going to trial, arguing that the state’s refusal to list same-sex spouses on their children’s birth certificates clearly violates the Supreme Court’s ruling legalizing marriage equality nationwide.

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle, who previously struck down Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage in August 2014, had previously ordered state officials to treat married same-sex couples and their children equally to heterosexual couples.

“There is no justification for Florida’s refusal to treat same-sex spouses equally,” said Amy Whelan, a senior staff attorney for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which is representing the two couples and Equality Florida. “The Supreme Court has already ruled that same-sex spouses and their children have a constitutional right to have their family relationships respected in every state.”

The plaintiffs claim that not having a birth certificate listing both spouses is discriminatory, stigmatizing, and humiliating to families headed by same-sex couples. From a practical standpoint, it can prevent the unlisted parent from being able to make medical decisions, cover their children’s medical care with insurance, register their child for daycare and enroll in any government programs or apply for benefits, among other things.

Plaintiff Debbie Chin, who has been married to her wife, Kari, for 15 years and is raising two children with her, says the experience of being denied the right to be listed on her son’s birth certificate was “humiliating.”

“I’m just as much of a parent as Kari and as anyone else with children,” Chin said in a prepared statement. “All we want to do is love, protect, and provide the best opportunities for our children and to be treated equally under the law.  Without being on our son’s birth certificate, in the event of an emergency or if something were ever to happen to my wife, I am not sure where that would leave us.”

“We’re hoping that one day soon I’ll be added to our daughter’s birth certificate,” said Yadira Arenas, who was left off of the birth certificate after her wife of two years, Alma Vazquez, gave birth to a daughter. “She has two, loving mothers and our family deserves equal protection and respect. We don’t want our child to grow up feeling that the State of Florida does not respect us or recognize us as a family.”

“It is simply unacceptable for Florida to deny these families equal dignity and equal protection under the law,” added Hannah Willard, the policy and outreach coordinator at Equality Florida. “The U.S. Supreme Court made it clear in June that all married couples must be treated equally. We urge Judge Hinkle to tell the Bureau of Vital Statistics to follow the law.”

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