NYC changes birth certificate policy for lesbians

Posted on 26 Mar 2009 at 7:11pm
By Jennifer Peltz Associated Press

Law requiring birth mother’s name be on birth certificate means gay male couples must still adopt

NEW YORK — Married lesbian couples can now list both spouses as parents as soon as their children are born in New York City, rather than having to go to court to secure their place on a basic hallmark of parenthood: a birth certificate.

The city Board of Health voted unanimously Tuesday, March 24 to make the change, which has emotional resonance for same-sex couples who have long complained about facing legal hurdles to cement parental rights others take for granted.

The state made a similar move in December, after Gov. David Paterson ordered agencies last May to respect out-of-state gay marriages. He said a recent court ruling suggested they would otherwise risk discrimination claims.

The state policy applied everywhere except New York City, which keeps its own vital statistics and sets its own rules for them. But the state directive prompted city officials to review their birth certificate policy, said city registrar and assistant health commissioner Steven Schwartz.

Until now, married same-sex couples — male and female — have been able to list both spouses on a city birth certificate only after going through the months-long legal adoption process, then filling out a special form to get a new birth certificate.

The new policy allows lesbian couples to list both women as parents from the outset when one of them gives birth.

Male couples still have to adopt because of regulations requiring a birth certificate to include the birth mother. The same is true in the state policy, state Department of Health spokesman Jeffrey Hammond said.

Advocates still encourage same-sex couples to adopt because doing so gives them extra legal protection. But the birth certificate provision can clarify parental rights in situations ranging from a hospital nursery to a school registrar’s office, said Susan Sommer, senior counsel for the gay rights advocacy group Lambda Legal.

"Also, just symbolically, it’s really significant: You want to know that you’re recognized as a parent," she said.

The new city rules are effective immediately but expected to take some time to implement, Schwartz said.

Massachusetts and Connecticut are now the only states that allow gay marriage. California briefly did until voters banned it in November.

Gay marriage has not been legalized in New York, and the Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative legal organization, has challenged Paterson’s move to extend spousal rights to gay couples wed elsewhere. The Scottsdale, Ariz.-based alliance says only the Legislature, not the governor, has authority to recognize out-of-state gay marriages.

In the meantime, six married lesbian couples have made use of the state’s new birth certificate rules, Hammond said.

Among them was an Ulster County pair who sued to prod the policy change as they awaited their first child last year. Their son was born Dec. 19, their lawyer said.

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