Lambda Legal Seeks Accurate Birth Certificates for Children Born to Married Same-Sex Couples in North Carolina

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December 17, 2015
"All children born in North Carolina to married parents need the same protection and acknowledgement of their relationships to their parents by the State."

(Raleigh, NC December 10, 2015) – Today, Lambda Legal filed a federal lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina on behalf Melissa and Meredith Weiss, a married lesbian couple, seeking birth certificates listing both mothers as parents of their two sons.

“All children born in North Carolina to married parents need the same protection and acknowledgement of their relationships to their parents by the State,” said Beth Littrell, Senior Attorney for Lambda Legal. “Without accurate birth certificates, routine and emergency events that come with caring for your children—from school registrations to authorizing medical care—are made more difficult if not impossible.  Although North Carolina changed their policies after federal courts struck down discriminatory marriage laws, there are children who were born to married same-sex couples in North Carolina before the unconstitutional marriage ban was struck down—those children should have accurate birth certificate listing both of their parents. This lawsuit aims to ensure that all children born to married parents are treated equally regardless of who they are born to or when they were born. ”

After being together for several years, Chapel Hill residents Melissa and Meredith Weiss traveled to Ontario, Canada, in August, 2003, to get married. When they returned to North Carolina, they began their efforts to have children. Both children were conceived by Melissa through in vitro fertilization. Prior to their first child’s birth in July, 2006, the Weisses secured a court order declaring both women as his legal parents and ordering the Registrar to issue a birth certificate listing both parents’ names. North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) refused. Their second child, D.W., was born in November 2008. Shortly after he was born, Melissa and Meredith were granted an adoption order recognizing they were both D.W.’s legal parents. Based on DHHS’ refusal to respect the first court order, they did not seek a corrected birth certificate for D.W. until marriage equality came to North Carolina last year.  On October 14, 2014, Melissa and Meredith requested new birth certificates listing both women as the children’s parent, providing DHHS with the court orders and proof of their 2003 marriage. More than a year later, their children’s birth certificates still inaccurately reflect that they were born to an unmarried woman and list Meredith as the only parent of one child and Melissa as the only parent of the other. 

“Because we are not both listed on our sons' birth certificates, we can’t easily prove that we are our childrens' legal parents when necessary,” said Melissa Weiss.  “While traveling a few years ago, for example, our youngest son was injured and instead of focusing on his treatment, the hospital staff repeatedly questioned us on which one of us was the ‘real’ mom, insisting that the other leave the treatment room and not participate in discussing what was the best course of action.  As parents, we have done everything we can to protect our children and without accurate birth certificates that reflect who their parents are, we fear this, or something worse, will happen again.”

In May 2015, DHHS issued policies regarding birth certificates for children of married same-sex couples saying that only children born after October 10, 2014 could receive new birth certificates listing both parents.  Inexplicably, DHHS polices do not allow children, like the Weiss children, who were born to married same-sex couples before October 10, 2014, to get new birth certificates naming both spouses as parents, effectively erasing one parent from the family in the eyes of the State and leaving these children more vulnerable, less protected and unfairly stigmatized.

Today, Lambda Legal filed a complaint on behalf of the Weisses noting that the DHHS policies that refuse to provide new birth certificates to children born to same-sex spouses before October 10, 2014 are arbitrary and harmful and violate the Equal Protection and Due Process clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. 

Read the filing: www.lambdalegal.org/in-court/legal-docs/weiss_nc_20151217_complaint

Lambda Legal Senior Attorney Beth Littrell is handling the case for Lambda Legal, alongside co-counsel, Drew Kifner and John Moye, from the law firm of Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP   .