Florida same-sex couples fight for both names on birth certificates

Hannah and Jen Smith always knew they wanted to have kids.

The couple, who married in Boston in 2013, decided Hannah would carry their first pregnancy through an anonymous sperm donor. They looked forward to their June due date.

Rilynn was born right on time. Days later, the U.S. Supreme Court decided states must do what Florida said it would do back in January: recognize same-sex marriages.

They didn't anticipate that having both parents' names listed on Rilynn's state-issued birth certificate would be a problem.

But it was. The hospital told them they couldn't list Jen's name as a parent in Florida.

"I asked why. They said they didn't know; there was no answer, just the software or the program didn't allow for it," Hannah explained.

After they came home, the Smith’s contacted Florida's Department of Health, hoping for a better answer.

"We do not have an official response at this time regarding married same sex parents' to be listed on the birth record at the hospital at the time of their child's birth," Bureau of Vital Statistics employee Betty Shannon, told them in an email. "The department is analyzing the extent of our authority to pursue solutions to this issue." 

Florida's Department of Health declined multiple FOX 13 requests for an interview. Spokeswoman Mara Berger sent an email just before air, saying only, "The Florida Department of Health is working to update all necessary forms." Berger has not responded to follow-up questions about why it's taken the state 6 months to implement the update, and how much longer it is expected to take.    

"This issue should have been taken care of a long time ago, certainly no later than the time that marriage came to Florida in January this year," said Daniel Tilley, an attorney with ACLU Florida.

When the Supreme Court decided states must recognize same-sex marriage, Justice Anthony Kennedy's written decision made it clear that state benefits such as names on birth certificates were one of the equal treatment issues at stake.

"It's such an easy fix," he said. "It's really the application of the most basic equal protection principles, that if the state is treating a different-sex couple one way, they can't treat a same-sex couple a different way."

It's not just Florida where same-sex couples aren't recognized on birth certificates. A handful of states are facing litigation over the issue. Two weeks ago, a federal judge in Utah ordered the state to list both parents' names on a birth certificate in a situation similar to the Smith's. In that case, the judge said the state hadn't given a reason it should treat same-sex couples differently than a husband and wife using artificial insemination.

Without both parents' names on a birth certificate, couples could face problems with parental rights being recognized in a school or medical setting. If something happened to Hannah, Jen wouldn't automatically be recognized as Rilynn's parent, either.

On Rilynn's birth certificate, Hannah's name is listed. Underneath her name, a line that says, "This space intentionally left blank."

"For some people it's just a piece of paper to have their names on there," Hannah added. "But for us it's more than that. It's starting her life out, showing that we're her parents and to not have that, really, I think took our breath away."

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