Victory! Wisconsin Court Orders Accurate Birth Certificates for Children of Same-Sex Spouses

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“Many same-sex parents can breathe a sigh of relief. Now, their children will have the security of both parents listed on their birth certificates, a vital document in a family’s day-to-day life.”
September 14, 2016

(Madison, WI, September 14, 2016) – Today, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin ruled that the state of Wisconsin must issue accurate birth certificates listing both parents for the children of married same-sex couples, including the son of Lambda Legal clients Chelsea and Jessamy Torres, a married lesbian couple.

“We are pleased with today’s ruling from the Court, which grants Chelsea, Jessamy, and their son, and other families in similar situations, the critical protection that a birth certificate accurately naming both parents provides.” said Kyle Palazzolo, Staff Attorney for Lambda Legal. “Many same-sex parents can breathe a sigh of relief.  Now, their children will have the security of both parents listed on their birth certificates, a vital document in a family’s day-to-day life.

“As important, the Court today also delivered a significant victory for true equality, ruling that married same-sex couples and their children deserve to be treated in the same way as married different-sex couples and their children. Because Wisconsin automatically gave the children of different-sex spouses birth certificates that named both spouses as parents, Wisconsin was required to do the same for the children of same-sex spouses. While we brought this case solely on behalf of Jessamy, Chelsea, their son, and certain other families who used reproductive technology to have children, the court emphasized that other Wisconsin families have been unfairly denied two-parent birth certificates, too. The court stated that the Wisconsin Department of Health Services should act quickly to issue corrected birth certificates to these children, and update their forms to respect same-sex couples and their families, or face future lawsuits.

“Same-sex marriage has been legal in Wisconsin since 2014, so there is little excuse for the department to be dragging its feet so long,” said District Judge Barbara Crabb.

Chelsea and Jessamy live in Madison and were married in New York in September 2012. About a year after getting married, the couple started planning a family. They used assisted reproductive technology and after several attempts and significant cost, Chelsea was able to get pregnant. After an overall healthy pregnancy, Chelsea was in labor for 72 hours and their son’s heart rate dropped dramatically at one point, requiring an emergency C-section. Their son was in intensive care for several days following his birth.

The hospital staff treated the family very well, often referring to Jessamy as “Big Mom” and Chelsea as “Little Mom,” as Jessamy is 6’3” while Chelsea is 5’6”. After their son’s birth, hospital staff instructed Jessamy to fill out the “father” part of the birth certificate application. A couple of weeks later, Chelsea received a form from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services asking for confirmation of the information that was provided to generate a birth certificate. The form did not contain any reference to Jessamy, effectively erasing her from the family in the eyes of the State.

In September, Lambda Legal filed a motion for summary judgment, and today the Court ruled in favor of Chelsea and Jessamy and all Wisconsin parents and their children who need accurate birth certificates.

Lambda Legal has successfully litigated on behalf of married same-sex couples seeking accurate birth certificates for their children in Iowa in the case Gartner v. Newton and in Ohio in Henry v. Hodges. This past December, Lambda Legal attorneys also filed a lawsuit on behalf of Melissa and Meredith Weiss, a married lesbian couple seeking accurate two-parent birth certificates for their two sons in North Carolina—a decision is pending. Federal courts in Florida and Indiana have also recently ruled to apply the spousal presumption of parentage to married same-sex couples equally in those states.

Read the opinion here: http://www.lambdalegal.org/in-court/legal-docs/torres_wi_20160914_opinion

Along with Kyle Palazzolo, the Torres family is being represented by Camilla Taylor and Christopher Clark of Lambda Legal, Claire Lepak of Lovell-Lepak Law Office and Tamara Packard of Cullen Weston Pines & Bach in Madison, WI.

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Contact Info

Graciela González Cell: 312-545-8140; Email: [email protected]

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