By Alex Vaughn
Photo: Heather Lynn Martin Gartner, left, and Melissa McCoy Gartner in their Des Moines home, play with their 17 month old daughter.
Heather Lynn Martin Gartner, 39, and Melissa McCoy Gartner, 41, of Des Moines, Iowa, sued the Iowa Department of Public Health, arguing that the agency’s 2009 decision to only list Heather as a parent deprives their daughter, Mackenzie, 2, of the protections and benefits of two legal parents being present from birth, The Des Moines Register reports.
Judge Eliza Ovrom announced on Monday that she will rule later on the lesbian couple’s lawsuit seeking permission to have both their names on their daughter’s birth certificate.
The Des Moines Register explains the reason only Heather is listed on MacKenzie’s birth certificate, and why this was not the case with their adopted son, Zach, is because “Of states that recognize civil unions, only Iowa prohibits two women from being listed as parents on a child’s birth certificate. The exception is if a child is adopted.” The couple also argues that they and their daughter will not receive the same benefits afforded to other couples who are parents, such as the ability for Melissa to make medical decisions for her child. They also say it’s unfair, as reported by USA Today, “…that the state lists heterosexual couples as parents on a birth certificate even when they conceive as they [The Gartners] did: via anonymous donor insemination.”
The couple’s fear regarding medical decisions has already occurred. MacKenzie had to be hospitalized a few months after birth with a respiratory virus. Heather Gartner maintained a near 24-hour vigil at her daughter’s bedside because the couple feared that doctors would not allow Melissa Gartner alone to make crucial medical decisions.
The pair’s attorney, Camilla Taylor, said during arguments on Monday that the state lists married men on birth certificates. This is done even when it’s impossible for the men to be children’s biological fathers, The Des Moines Register reports. She also cited the Iowa Supreme Court case that struck down the state’s 2009 same-sex marriage ban. The unanimous ruling cited constitutional rights to basic fairness and equal protection.
The health department has argued that state law allows only a husband’s name to accompany the mother’s on birth certificates, reports AP.
USA Today reported that State attorney Heather Adams said Monday afternoon that if a child’s mother and father aren’t married, there is no father listed on a birth certificate unless paternity is established pursuant to a court order. Adams said the health department has extended other rights to same-sex married couples since the ruling. But she said state law regarding parentage is gender-specific and not open to interpretation. “If I had to summarize the department’s case in one sentence, it would be this: It is a biological impossibility for a woman to ever legally establish paternity of a child,” Adams said.
After Monday’s hearing, Melissa Gartner said she was at her wife’s side when they decided to have kids, when they saw a fertility specialist and when Heather Gartner was inseminated.
“I was there when Mackenzie was born. I cut her umbilical cord. And for them to say I’m not a legal parent? It just seems ridiculous,” she said.
The Gartners married in June 2009, and Heather gave birth to Mackenzie three months later.
Attorneys for both sides agreed same-sex parents should adopt their children if they plan to travel because at least 30 states have adopted laws similar to a federal rule that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.
“We say (this case) is about protecting children, both in tangible ways, emotionally and in respect to their financial security,” Taylor a lawyer with Lambda Legal Defence and Education Fund in New York, told USA Today. “Legal rights afforded to kids with two parents provide basic security and vital protections,” Taylor said. A birth certificate is necessary to travel, to determine child support and to obtain government benefits. Lambda Legal also led the effort that culminated in the legalization of same-sex marriage in Iowa.
It is unclear at this point when a ruling will be made by Iowa District Judge Eliza Ovrom.