Birth certificates latest battleground in Florida's gay marriage fight

Reuters News
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Posted: Aug 13, 2015 1:52 PM

By David Adams

MIAMI (Reuters) - Eights months after Florida’s gay marriage ban was declared unconstitutional, the state is not allowing hospitals to list both same-sex parents on their babies' birth certificates, according to a federal lawsuit recently filed by three gay couples.

Earlier this month the first same-sex couple to be married in Florida, Cathy Pareto and Karla Arguello, discovered the hospital would not include the non-birth mother's name on the birth certificate for their twins.

The lawsuit says the Florida Bureau of Vital Statistics violates the U.S. Constitution by issuing "a certificate that falsely indicates that the child has only one parent."

In August 2014 Florida Judge Robert L. Hinkle struck down Florida’s same-sex marriage ban. Then, in June the U.S. Supreme Court issued a nationwide ruling that state marriage bans are unconstitutional.

The Florida Department of Health, which handles birth certificates, said it was aware of the lawsuit but did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Shannon Minter, legal director of the San Francisco-based National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) that is representing the plaintiffs, said it was not known how many births were affected by the state's action.

Most states changed birth certificate rules to reflect the Supreme Court ruling, although Texas, Utah and Arkansas only did so after lawsuits were filed, Minter said.

Since the ruling, legal fights over gay marriage have erupted across the country. On Thursday, the Colorado Court of Appeals said a baker cannot cite religious beliefs in refusing to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. On Wednesday, gay rights advocates in Mississippi filed a federal lawsuit challenging the state's ban on adoption by same-sex couples.

The Florida plaintiffs had been "incredibly patient, but enough is enough," added Minter.

Not having an accurate birth certificate denies children with same-sex parents normal birth rights and also prevents parents from taking care of their children’s everyday needs like obtaining government benefits, according to Equality Florida, which represents lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Floridians, and is also a plaintiff in the case.

Pareto and Arguello were married in January 2015.

"The state’s refusal to recognize that they have two parents and to list both of us on the birth certificates is demeaning and hurtful," Pareto said in a statement.

The other couples in the lawsuit are Debbie and Kari Chin, who had a son in February, and Yadira Arenas and Alma Vezquez, who had a daughter in March.

(Reporting by David Adams; Editing by Lisa Lambert)