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Judge to Rule Later in Birth Certificate Lawsuit

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DES MOINES, Iowa – An Iowa judge has said that she will rule later on a lesbian couple’s lawsuit seeking permission to have both of the women’s names on their daughter’s birth certificate.

Heather Lynn Martin Gartner, 39, and Melissa McCoy Gartner, 41, of Des Moines, sued the Iowa Department of Public Health saying the agency’s 2009 decision to list only Heather as a parent deprives their daughter, Mackenzie, now 2, of the protections and benefits of two legal parents being present from birth.

Heather is Mackenzie’s biological mother and the sole parent listed on the birth certificate, despite the fact that Heather and Melissa were legally married in Polk County three months before the child was born.

The couple’s attorney, Camilla Taylor, said during arguments Monday that the state lists married men on birth certificates, even when it’s impossible for them to be children’s biological fathers, The Des Moines Register reported (http://bit.ly/vwD8bV). She also cited the Iowa Supreme Court case that struck down the state’s same-sex marriage ban in 2009. 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. An agency spokesman couldn’t immediately say Monday whether a father would be listed on a birth certificate if he and the child’s mother weren’t married.

State attorney Heather Adams said the health department has extended other rights to same-sex married couples since the ruling. But state law regarding parentage is gender-specific and not open to interpretation, she said.

Under Iowa law, if a woman is married, the husband is the father, absent a court order that says otherwise.

“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 children, 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.

Of the states that recognize gay unions, only Iowa prohibits two women from being list as parents on a child’s birth certificate. The exception is if a child is adopted.

The couple’s legal challenge was filed a little more than a year after the Iowa Supreme Court overturned the state law that defined marriage as the union between a man and woman.

That lawsuit was dismissed on a technicality. The couple refiled the lawsuit in February.

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