Victory! Court Rules That S.C. Violates Right to Accurate Birth Certificates for Children of Same-Sex Spouses

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February 16, 2017
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A U.S. District Court in South Carolina ruled yesterday that the state violates the Constitution by denying accurate birth certificates for children of married same-sex couples. 

The ruling is a victory for Lambda Legal and South Carolina Equality clients Casy and Jacqueline Carson, a married lesbian couple, and their twins, who were issued birth certificates listing only Jacquie, and treating Casy like a legal stranger to her own children.

As stated in the ruling: “[T]he Court declares Defendant’s failure to treat same-sex spouses in the same manner she treats opposite-sex spouses in the issuance of birth certificates violates Plaintiffs’ rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. More specifically, this Court refuses to countenance Defendant’s refusal to name both Plaintiffs on their twins’ birth certificates. Defendant’s present practice is violative of Plaintiffs’ fundamental right to marriage and other protected liberties.”

“We are thrilled with the Court’s ruling, which settles that the Carson family and others like them are entitled to the critical safety and security that a birth certificate provides,” said Tara Borelli, Counsel at Lambda Legal. 

“It is long past time that states acknowledge the marriages of same-sex couples just as they do different-sex parents – and this decision is an important step in that direction," Borelli said. "An inaccurate birth certificate causes real trouble in a family’s day-to-day life – everything from a parent not being able to enroll a child in school to not being able to authorize basic medical care. That discrimination is now coming to an end in South Carolina: this ruling makes clear that all South Carolina families deserve the security of an accurate birth certificate that lists both parents.”

Casy and Jacqueline Carson are high school sweethearts from Greenville, South Carolina. Together since 2011, the couple married in April 2014 in Washington, D.C., at a time when their home state banned marriage between same-sex couples. After they were married, Casy and Jacqueline gave birth to twins. But despite stating they were married on hospital forms, Casy and Jacqueline received birth certificates listing Jacqueline as the “Mother,” and providing “No Father Listed” in the space for the other parent.

Casy, a National Guard veteran who served until a serious injury required her to end active duty in 2013, and Jacqueline, a teacher, couldn’t afford the fees to have Casy adopt their children. Without accurate birth certificates for their children, the couple had trouble accessing Casy’s benefits for the children through the Veterans Administration and Social Security. The couple worried that Casy could be kept from getting medical care for their twins during emergencies or even routine visits, and about the stigmatizing message it would send their children when they were old enough to understand their birth certificates.

South Carolina’s Department of Health and Environmental Control (“DHEC”) previously insisted that it would only issue birth certificates listing both same-sex spouses as parents if those couples obtained an adoption or a court order, something not required of married different-sex spouses. While couples should still undertake second parent adoptions if they can, their children deserve accurate birth certificates from the start.  

In May 2016, Lambda Legal and South Carolina Equality, with the help of pro bono co-counsel, filed a motion for summary judgment, noting that the DHEC policies that refuse to provide new birth certificates to children born to same-sex spouses are arbitrary, harmful and violate the Equal Protection and Due Process clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. 

Yesterday the Court ruled in favor of the Carsons and all other similar couples in South Carolina who need accurate birth certificates for their children. The next phase is for the parties to work to reach agreement on how  this constitutional ruling will be implemented for those seeking corrected and accurate birth certificates. Couples with questions are encouraged to contact the Lambda Legal Help Desk

Lambda Legal has successfully represented secured access to accurate two-parent birth certificates in Iowa in Gartner v. Newton, North Carolina in Weiss v. Brajer, and Wisconsin in Torres v. Rhoades.

North Carolina