Iowa Court Orders State to Provide Accurate Birth Certificate to Child Born to Two Mothers: Lambda Legal Celebrates Victory

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"Birth certificates document legal parentage, not biology."
January 4, 2012

(Des Moines, IA, January 4, 2012) Today, the Iowa District Court for Polk County ordered the state's Department of Public Health to issue a birth certificate for two year-old Mackenzie Gartner, a child born to a married same-sex couple in 2009, listing both spouses as Mackenzie's parents in reliance on their marriage and the spousal presumption of parentage it creates.

District Court Judge Eliza Ovrom wrote:

"The Supreme Court in Varnum cited legitimacy of children born to married parents under Section 252A.3(4) as one of the benefits that was withheld from same-sex couples who could not legally be married. Varnum v. Brien, 763 N.W.2d at 903, n. 28. This is a strong indication that the Supreme Court intended married same-sex couples to have legal recognition that their children are legitimate and entitled to the support of both parents. The Department's refusal to place Melissa's name on the birth certificate frustrates the purpose of the law to recognize the legitimacy of a child born to a marriage, and to establish the parents' obligation to support the child, as recognized in the Varnum decision."

"An accurate birth certificate is essential for a child's physical, financial, and emotional security," said Camilla Taylor, Marriage Project Director for Lambda Legal. "The court affirmed what should have been clear to the Iowa Department of Public Health from reading Varnum v. Brien—Lambda Legal's case that established that same-sex couples in Iowa have an equal right to marry—that a child born to a married couple has two parents, regardless of whether the spouses are same-sex or different-sex. Birth certificates document legal parentage, not biology. Children are entitled to accurate birth certificates so that their legal parents can enroll them in school, make medical decisions for them in an emergency, and ensure that they can benefit from an employer's health insurance plan, among many other reasons."

Mackenzie Gartner was born in September 2009 to Heather and Melissa Gartner, a lesbian couple who legally married in Iowa before she was born. The couple conceived with the use of anonymous donor sperm. After receiving a birth certificate that listed Heather as the only parent, the couple requested a corrected birth certificate listing both spouses. In violation of Iowa law, which requires the state to issue a birth certificate to a child born to married parents listing both spouses as parents even when a mother's spouse has no genetic connection to the child, Iowa's Department of Public Health denied the request on the ground that Melissa is not Mackenzie's genetic parent. In May 2010, Lambda Legal filed suit on behalf of Mackenzie Gartner to require the Department of Public Health to list both spouses as parents on the birth certificate.

Today's decision focused on Mackenzie Gartner's welfare, and emphasized that "the integrity of Heather and Melissa's family is promoted by allowing Melissa's name on the birth certificate." Iowa is now in line with every other state that permits same-sex couples to marry, enter into civil unions, or enter comprehensive domestic partnerships. Each of these jurisdictions issues birth certificates to children born to same-sex couples in a legal relationship on the same terms as to children born to married different-sex couples.

"We are thrilled that our daughter will now receive same respect and treatment that every other child born to married parents receives," said Heather Gartner. "Every child faces challenges in life, but being unfairly burdened by the state and deprived of the ability to show who her legal parents are should not be one of them."

Read more about the case.

Along with Camilla Taylor, Mackenzie Gartner is being represented by Kenneth Upton of Lambda Legal and Sharon K. Malheiro of Davis, Brown, Koehn, Shors & Roberts, P.C.


Contact Info

Erik Roldan 312-663-4413 ext. 359; Cell: 312-545-8140; Email:

Lambda Legal is a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and those with HIV through impact litigation, education and public policy work.