Same-sex couple sues Iowa Department of Public Health over death certificate

Two days after the Iowa Department of Public Health announced plans to appeal a court ruling on same-sex parents’ right to be listed on birth certificates, a new lawsuit challenged the department’s refusal to list a non-birthing spouse on a stillborn baby’s death certificate.

From the LGBT advocacy group One Iowa’s blog:

On February 8, 2012 Lambda Legal filed suit against the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) on behalf of Jenny and Jessica Buntemeyer, a married Iowa couple seeking an accurate death certificate for their stillborn baby, Brayden. After the loss of their son, Jenny and Jessica filled out the spaces on the death certificate form for both parents, and indicated that they were married.

IDPH sent the couple a death certificate with Jenny’s name erased.

Rekha Basu covered the couple’s story in her Des Moines Register column on February 7:

The certificate of fetal death, which arrived late last month from the Iowa Department of Public Health, listed only Jessica as the parent, whiting out Jennifer’s name from the form the couple filled out and the funeral director signed. Jennifer left messages over four days for the one person at the IDPH she was told could explain the decision, but never even got a call back.

“It was like they were trying to erase all the commitment and love and work we had both put into planning a family,” Jennifer said. “They disrespected our marriage and poured salt on the wound of something that was already so horrible.” […]

“Here they are doing it again, in the case of death,” said Camilla Taylor with Lambda Legal, which represents the legal rights of gays and lesbians. Taylor, who represented the Gartners, plans to file a lawsuit today on behalf of the Buntemeyers. She said each of the 16 other states (including the District of Columbia) that recognizes civil unions or same-sex marriage “respects the spousal assumption” in birth and death certificates of offspring. That spousal assumption is spelled out in Iowa law and is honored when a child is born into a heterosexual marriage, Taylor said. […]

Birth and death certificates are not meant to reflect biology but legal parenthood, Taylor said. A birth certificate allows a parent to enroll a child in school, for example. This death certificate is “the sole record of the existence of Brayden Bruce Buntemeyer,” she said. “There’s no remedy for this family. They can’t adopt.”

Why is this a problem in Iowa when it’s not a problem in other marriage equality states? I do not understand the department’s logic here. An Iowa man married to a woman would never have to prove genetic parentage of a stillborn baby in order to be listed on a death certificate.

I predict the judge who hears this case will reach a conclusion similar to the district court judge’s ruling on the birth certificate lawsuit.

  • I hope

    … no one is surprised by any of this.  After all, when you elected Terry Branstad, this is what you voted for. On so many fronts….nursing homes, the environment, IDPH, etc. 13 months in, I wonder if those not paying attention and just knee-jerked against incumbents in 2010 are now having buyer’s remorse.  Very discouraging.

  • I still don't get this.

    Birth and death certificates are not meant to reflect biology but legal parenthood, Taylor said.

    According to the article, Jennifer is the biological mother of Brayden.

    I don’t understand the rules being applied here. In all sincerity, who is it that prefers that legal parental rights be denied to a biological parent who wants to assert that right? I don’t think that’s consistent with arguments against gay marriage that claim the state’s interest in marriage is to support an ideal that children be raised by their biological parents.

    • confusing situation

      Jessica was the birth mother, but she was carrying one of Jennifer’s eggs (fertilized by an anonymous donor). I have heard of other lesbian couples following that procedure to make sure that both mothers have legal ground for being considered the child’s parent.

      Post Varnum v Brien, they shouldn’t have to do anything more than show that they are legally married. Iowa law considers a married man the father of his wife’s child even if it was impossible for him to be the biological father.

      • Yes, but

        even if a child were only allowed to have one legal mother, who thinks that the surrogate mother’s parental rights trump the biological mother’s?

        I’m not asking this to make a point, I just didn’t know that was a widely-held view.

        • case law

          on the birthing mothers being named on the birth certificate predates the technology of being able to implant one woman’s egg into another woman’s uterus.

          I doubt many people have thought through the implications for lesbian couples who become parents the way the Buntemeyers did.

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