Although same-sex marriage has been legal since the first week of 2015, a new lawsuit contends the Florida Bureau of Vital Statistics refuses to allow hospitals to list both same-sex parents on their baby’s birth certificate.
Three married same-sex couples, including one based in St. Petersburg, and the LGBT activist group Equality Florida have filed a federal lawsuit challenging the state’s refusal to issue them accurate birth certificates listing both spouses as parents of their children.
“Attorney General Pam Bondi could have avoided yet another costly lawsuit by directing all state agencies to simply comply with the law. Instead she turned her back on repeated requests to take action,” said Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida. “Birth certificates are the first official document that represent a new born baby’s family. Having an inaccurate birth certificate hinders parents’ ability to take care of their child and access important legal benefits and protections. Denying our families this is not only spiteful and harmful, it is illegal.”
The lawsuit asks the court to order the Department of Health and the Bureau of Vital Statistics to stop violating the law by refusing to issue birth certificates that list both parents when a child is born to a married same-sex couples, just as the state of Florida does for children born to married different-sex spouses.
The three couples filing the suit are Debbie and Kari Chin of St. Petersburg, Yadira Arenas and Alma Vezquez of Winter Haven, and Cathy Pareto and Karla Arguello of Hollywood, who have the distinction of being first same-sex couple to be married in Florida. They wed in January.
“There isn’t a moment that goes by that I’m not thinking of the harm my children — my newborns — may face because we aren’t being treated like other families,” Pareto said in a prepared statement. “All I want to do is love, protect, and provide the best opportunities for our children. The state’s refusal to recognize that they have two parents and to list both of us on the birth certificates is demeaning and hurtful. My children have two parents, and we should both be listed on their birth certificates.”
The plaintiffs are represented by the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) and Florida attorneys Mary Meeks and Elizabeth Schwartz.
“The state of Florida is violating the law every day that it denies accurate birth certificates to children born to married same-sex couples,” said Shannon Minter, NCLR’s legal director. “After months of urging the Bureau of Vital Statistics to comply with the law, we are asking the court to put an end to the harms the Bureau is causing. The children in these families deserve to be protected, and the state of Florida’s continuing disregard for their well-being is unconscionable.”
On New Year’s Day, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle ruled that the U.S. Constitution “requires” clerks in all 67 Florida counties to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples who wish to marry. The decision came after his ruling this past August that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage was a violation of the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. In his ruling, he ordered all state officials, including Florida’s surgeon general, who oversees the Florida Department of Health and the Bureau of Vital Statistics, to treat married same-sex couples and their children equally in all respects.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled this summer that same-sex couples have a fundamental right to marry and to have their marriages treated equally.
Bondi has yet to respond to the announcement of the suit.