UPDATES & ANALYSIS

12.11

Iowa Supreme Court to Hear Birth-Certificate Case Brought By Same-Sex Couple

by Ryan Koopmans | December 11, 2012

By Ryan Koopmans

This afternoon, the Iowa Supreme Court will hear oral argument in Gartner v. Iowa Department of Public Health, which presents the following issue: When a mother gives birth to a child, does the Iowa Supreme Court’s decision in Varnum v. Brien require that the mother’s same-sex spouse be listed on the birth certificate?

Heather and Melissa Gartner married in 2009, shortly after the Iowa Supreme Court ruled in Varnum that Iowa’s ban on same-sex marriage violated the Iowa Constitution. In September of the same year, Heather gave birth to a daughter, who was conceived by artificial insemination through an anonymous donor.

Heather and Melissa requested that both of their names be placed on the birth certificate, but the Iowa Department of Public Health listed Heather only.  Melissa could be added, the Department told them, but only if she adopted the child because Iowa’s birth-certificate statute is based on paternity: “Unless paternity has been determined otherwise by a court” the “name of the husband shall be entered on the certificate as the father of the child.”

The Gartners challenged that decision in Iowa District Court and won.  Judge Eliza Ovrom ruled that in light of Varnum, the birth-certificate statute must be interpreted in a gender-neutral fashion: “husband” should be read as “spouse” and “father” should be read as “parent.”

The Department appealed the ruling, arguing that the gender-specific nature of the statute has meaning beyond marriage–that it goes to paternity and therefore Varnum does not affect the statute.

The Supreme Court’s afternoon session begins at 1:00, and Gartner is the second case on the docket.  The oral argument may be viewed live at this link, and it will be archived sometime within the next week.  The parties’ briefs, as well as friend-of-the-court briefs supporting the Department and the Gartners are linked below:

Iowa Department of Public Health Opening Brief
Gartner Brief
Amicus brief of the Family Policy Center in support of the Department
Amicus brief of the ACLU in support of the Gartners
Amicus brief of the National Association of Social Workers in support of the Gartners
Amicus brief of law professors in support of the Gartners

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