(Tallahassee, FL, August 13, 2015)—Just days ago, Cathy Pareto and Karla Arguello—the first same-sex couple to be married in Florida—celebrated the birth of their twin son and daughter. But the couple’s joy was soon mixed with fear and frustration when the hospital denied Cathy the right to add her name to the children’s birth certificates.
Almost a year since Florida’s marriage ban was declared unconstitutional, the Florida Bureau of Vital Statistics is still refusing to allow hospitals to list both same-sex parents on their baby’s birth certificate.
Today, Cathy and Karla, who were lead plaintiffs in Florida’s marriage lawsuit, are joining two other married same-sex couples in a federal lawsuit challenging Florida’s refusal to issue them accurate birth certificates listing both spouses as parents of their children. Equality Florida, the largest organization representing lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Floridians, is also a plaintiff in the case.
“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 other couples in the lawsuit are Debbie and Kari Chin of St. Petersburg and Yadira Arenas and Alma Vazquez of Winter Haven. 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.”
Not having an accurate birth certificate denies children with same-sex parents the dignity, security, support, and protections available upon birth to children of married different-sex parents. It also prevents parents from taking care of their children’s everyday needs like obtaining healthcare, making medical decisions, signing up for daycare, and enrolling in government programs and benefits.
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.
In August of last year, Judge Robert L. Hinkle issued a decision striking down Florida’s marriage ban and ordering 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. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a nationwide ruling, confirming that state marriage bans are unconstitutional.
Cathy and Karla have been together for 15 years and were married in Florida in January 2015 after they won their case challenging the state’s ban on marriage equality. Cathy owns and operates a financial planning firm, while Karla is a stay-at-home mother to their children, which, in addition to the newborn twins, includes a young son.
“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,” said Cathy. “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.”
Debbie and Kari have been together for 15 years and were married in Boston in 2013. Kari is a social worker with a local school district, while Debbie, a former elementary school teacher, is a stay-at-home mother to their two children. When Kari gave birth to their second child, a son, in February, they were told that Debbie could not be listed on his birth certificate.
“I was shocked to realize that although we are legally married, we do not have an equal marriage in Florida yet,” Debbie said. “How can our son, who we planned for and loved even before he was born, have only one parent on his birth certificate? What would happen to him in an emergency, or if something happened to my wife, and I am not recognized as his mother?”
Yadira and Alma have been together for three years and were married in New York in 2013. Alma is a medical assistant in a pediatric office and Yadira is a pharmacy technician. When Alma gave birth to their first child, a daughter, in March, they were not allowed to put Yadira on the birth certificate as a parent, and Alma was told that she had to be listed as “single” on the form.
“I always dreamed of the moment when I would become a mother with my spouse,” said Yadira. “Instead of being congratulated, I was told that I had to lie and say I wasn’t married because they wouldn’t recognize my wife.”
Florida law requires the Office of Vital Statistics to list a birth mother’s spouse on the child’s birth certificate. Now that both a federal district court judge and the U.S. Supreme Court have ruled that same-sex couples have a fundamental right to marry and to have their marriages treated equally, the State of Florida must provide same-sex spouses with the same rights given to different-sex spouses, including the right to an accurate birth certificate listing both spouses as parents. Despite repeated requests, the Florida Office of Vital Statistics has refused to recognize same-sex spouses on birth certificates, even after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that all states must fully recognize all marriages between same-sex spouses.