Last October, Jessica Aiken and Jenny Buntemeyer lost their son in utero. To add to their grief, the Iowa Department of Public Health (DPH) proceeded to erase Buntemeyer’s name from the death certificate because she was not the child’s “father.” The couple sued in February with support from Lambda Legal, arguing that because Iowa recognizes same-sex marriages, it has to recognize them both as parents, and a judge has now ruled in their favor.
Though DPH tried to argue that death certificates only represent biological connections, Buntemeyer and Aiken argued that a mother’s husband can be listed as the father without a proof of paternity. The judge agreed:
Biology is only minimally related to a Certificate’s statistical purpose and is completely unrelated to a Certificate’s documentary purpose. Accordingly, biology alone is an insufficient justification to disparate treatment of a mother’s husband and a mother’s wife on a Certificate. Since biology is the only relevant difference between a mother’s husband and a mother’s wife for purposes of a Certificate, a mother’s husband and a mother’s wife are similarly-situated as non-gestational parents. [...]
DPH’s policy of refusing to register a mother’s wife on a Certificate is not substantially related to any important governmental objective. DPH has unconstitutionally interfered with a same-sex wife’s ability to receive the benefits of a Certificate. Therefore DPH must modify the Certificate form to comply with equal protection. DPH must also act consistently with its statutory duties. A categorical refusal to register a mother’s wife on a Certificate violates equal protection. DPH is required to modify its Certificate so as to identify both petitioners here as parents.
Cases like this demonstrate the burden still placed on same-sex couples despite supposed equality under the law. It seems fair to characterize DPH’s reluctance as simple laziness — if not incapacity — to redesign a simple form. The law requires that both members of a same-sex couple be recognized as a child’s parents, and that should hold true in death as in life. Buntemeyer should not have had to endure being physically erased from her son’s death certificate just because the forms are haven’t caught up with the law.