Subtitled: Fuck you, Louisiana
It has long been my opinion that “birth certificate” is a misnomer, since quite often in the United States this document isn’t a certified record of facts at a child’s birth but rather a document that often serves multiple purposes: proof of citizenship, family relations, gender, birthdate, identity, etc.
In some states your birth name, gender, hometown, race, date of birth and parents can be amended on the certificate. (Undoubtedly there are additional allowed changes that I’m not aware of.)
When children are adopted or born via surrogate, the birth certificate lists the adoptive or intended parent(s).
Unless, apparently, you are a gay couple with a legally adopted child trying to obtain an amended Louisiana birth certificate. That’s the problem faced by Oren Adar and Mickey Ray Smith.
Smith and Adar are parents of a six-year-old boy born in Louisiana and adopted in New York. But when they tried to obtain an amended birth certificate for him, the registrar refused on the grounds that Smith and Adar are unmarried and Louisiana prohibits unmarried couples from adopting. State officials did offer to issue a birth certificate listing one man as the child’s parent.
The case was brought before the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals (read decision here). The court ruled the registrar didn’t have to issue a certificate with both parents’ names. In the best interest of the child, yanno:
Louisiana has “a legitimate interest in encouraging a stable and nurturing environment for the education and socialization of its adopted children.” … Since such an end is legitimate, the only question is the means. In this case, Louisiana may rationally conclude that having parenthood focused on a married couple or single individual–not on the freely severable relationship of unmarried partners–furthers the interests of adopted children. In fact, research institution Child Trends released a report underscoring the importance of stable family structures for the well-being of children.13 In particular, the report noted that marriage, when compared to cohabitation, “is associated with better outcomes for children,” since marriage is more likely to provide the stability necessary for the healthy development of children.14 This fact alone provides a rational basis for Louisiana’s adoption regime and corresponding vital statistics registry. Moreover, since the law here attempts neither to encourage marriage nor to discourage behavior deemed immoral … but rather to ensure stable environments for adopted children, the court has sufficient basis to hold that the Louisiana law does not run afoul of the equal protection clause.
Additionally, the court states “And, since adoption is not a fundamental right,12 the Louisiana law will be upheld if it is rationally related to a legitimate state interest.”
(Immoral? WTF, did they have to go there?)
Well, the rationale is all kinds of idiocy. First, while adoption may not be a “fundamental right,” we’re not talking about the adoptive parents here. We’re talking about the kid. Who does, or should, have the right to be protected to the fullest extent under the law.
Second, let’s not even pretend that this is about the best interest of the child. He’s already got a “stable and nurturing environment”; what he needs is the protection of legal sanction of his parents. That is in his best interest.
Obviously, unmarried biological parents can be named on a birth certificate. It isn’t about the heterosexual couple since singles can adopt and can get that precious birth certificate. It isn’t necessarily about the biology, either, since often the husband of a married heterosexual couple is presumed to be the father. And the surrogate is presumed not to be the mother.
If we really wanted to talk about stable home environments for children and lasting relationships for adults, maybe we’d be also talking about legalizing same-sex marriage. And in the interest of fairness, and justice, and equality, same-sex unions would be recognized. And the children of same-sex unions would be protected legally.
A petition has been filed before the Supreme Court. Hopefully the court will rule in our best interests.
Edited to add: You can read the cert petition here (pdf).