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Gay Parents Face Issues With Birth Certificates In Some States


In the state of Kentucky, Kim Davis, the Rowan County clerk, made big news when she refused to issue same-sex marriage licenses. But this is not the only controversy since the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage earlier this year, as NPR's Jennifer Ludden reports, a handful of states are refusing to name both parents from a same-sex couple on birth certificates.

JENNIFER LUDDEN, BYLINE: Miami attorney Elizabeth Schwartz brought the case that legalized same-sex marriage in Florida in January. And she's still getting high-fives from this summer's Supreme Court decision.

ELIZABETH SCHWARTZ: Congratulations. We're done. You know, crossed the finish line. And that it's wah-wah (ph) not exactly.

LUDDEN: Last month, one of Schwartz's plaintiffs called back. Cathy Pareto and her longtime partner were the first same-sex couple to legally marry in Florida, but Pareto says they got a rude awakening when her now-wife, Karla, delivered twins last month. A hospital staffer came to take information for the birth certificate.

CATHY PARETO: What's the name of your child? Who's the father? Oh, gee, there's no father. Oh, but I want my wife listed. Oh, well, let me get back to you on that.

LUDDEN: Turns out the state's vital statistics office said the hospital could not put Pareto's name on the certificate. It pointed to the Florida statute that still said the state did not recognize same-sex marriage.

PARETO: At this point, I am nothing legally for my children. My twins and I are not the legally connected in any way.

LUDDEN: Pareto worries she'd lose custody if something happened to her wife. She also can't sign for the twins at a doctor's office, day care or to get a passport. So her attorney, Schwartz, has filed another suit on behalf of Pareto and two other couples.

SCHWARTZ: It's a terrible waste of resources, of our resources and of the state's resources. I mean, they ought to follow the law.

LUDDEN: Florida's health department says it can't comment on pending litigation. In court documents, it doesn't actually make a case for not issuing same-sex birth certificates. The state simply says it has asked a judge to clarify whether it can. In recent months, courts in Utah, Texas and Ohio have ruled in those states can and must. The U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage specifically mentions birth certificates as a benefit to which gay and lesbian couples are now entitled. Lawsuits in another handful of states are pending. But even they won't be the last word for same-sex couples with children.

CATHY SAKIMURA: A birth certificate alone, if you end up in a legal action, is not enough to prove that you are a legal parent.

LUDDEN: Cathy Sakimura is with the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which just launched a campaign to get out the word on this. She says states still have a patchwork of laws on assisted reproduction, including sperm donors and surrogacy, that she says can leave a non-biological parent vulnerable.

SAKIMURA: There are several custody cases where, you know, someone who has been on the birth certificate has been found not to be the parent of their child.

LUDDEN: To avoid this, Sakimura says even with their name on the marriage and birth certificate, non-biological same-sex parents should legally adopt their children. She calls this fight for family equality the next phase of same-sex rights. Jennifer Ludden, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jennifer Ludden helps edit energy and environment stories for NPR's National Desk, working with NPR staffers and a team of public radio reporters across the country. They track the shift to clean energy, state and federal policy moves, and how people and communities are coping with the mounting impacts of climate change.
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