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Same-sex parents can be listed on Indiana birth certificates as petition to appeal fails

Same-sex parents can be listed on Indiana birth certificates as petition to appeal fails

 The U.S. Supreme Court declined Monday to hear a case arguing the reversal of a lower court's decision that allowed same-sex couples in Indiana the right to both be listed as parents on the birth certificate of their children.  

Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill had petitioned the high court to hear the case 10 months after the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a decision by Indiana's federal Southern District court that said Indiana laws limiting who can be called a parent of a child were unconstitutional. 

Karen Celestino-Horseman, attorney for the plaintiffs, told IndyStar "we're delighted" about the Supreme Court's decision. 

"It's a major victory that is going to keep the same-sex families together, and the children born to these marriages will have two parents to love and protect them."In response to a request for comment from the Indiana Attorney General's Office, Solicitor General Tom Fisher said, "We are disappointed the Court declined to take up the case."

'It is such a relief' 

Jackie Phillips-Stackman is an Indianapolis Metropolitan Police officer and one of 14 plaintiffs who eventually joined the case. She and her wife Lisa Phillips-Stackman had their daughter Lola on Oct. 21, 2015. Jackie's embryos were used and Lisa carried Lola. Jackie said she called the Indiana State Health Department to make sure she and Lisa could be listed on the birth certificate. They couldn't. 

Jackie said she was told she would have to go through an expensive and lengthy step-parent adoption process to be listed on the birth certificate. 

"I was just so angry when I got off the phone," Jackie said. "And then I started doing some research." The first big win in 2016 was a "satisfying feeling," Jackie said. 

"...to finally get that order from the court and take it to the health department," Jackie recalled. "And I remember strutting in there with that court order and putting my name on that birth certificate."

Jackie Phillips-Stackman (left) and her wife Lisa Phillips-Stackman (right) were one of 14 plaintiffs in a lawsuit over same-sex couples' rights to put both parents' names on their child's birth certificate. Using Jackie's embryos, Lisa carried Lola (center).

The Supreme Court's decision to not hear the case was another satisfying moment for Jackie and her family. 

"It is such a relief, I can't even begin to describe it," Jackie said. "You spend so much time being very kind of angry at your state and angry at those that keep wanting to fight your equality as a parent, and you just get in this fight mode.

"So to know that that is finally over and that we can take a breath is so relieving."

Lola, now 5 years old, will be able to read the story of how she contributed to Indiana law. Jackie kept a journal documenting Lola's conception, birth and everything after. 

"She's gonna have the whole story to read, and of course I'm going to tell her how important this is," Jackie said. "She is truly just a miracle being that just by her presence is doing so much, and she has no idea right now."

The original case

Ashlee and Ruby Henderson from Lafayette were plaintiffs in the original case. In 2015 they sued Indiana's health commissioner and various officials in Tippecanoe County because county officials would not list both of them as parents on the birth certificate of their child, who Ruby conceived through artificial insemination.The county said they were unable to list both Ashlee and Ruby because the software the state used to produce birth certificates would not allow two women to be listed as parents on the certificate. 

In the case of the Henderson family, their child’s birth certificate had just one person, Ruby, listed as the parent. Seven additional couples joined the suit as plaintiffs after Indiana successfully appealed the case up to the 7th Circuit. 

The 7th Circuit justices observed that, in Indiana law, “a husband is presumed to be a child’s biological father, so that both spouses are listed as parents on the birth certificate and the child is deemed to be born in wedlock.” 

“There’s no similar presumption with respect to an all-female married couple—or for that matter an all-male married couple," wrote the judges, adding that requiring both women in a same-sex marriage to be listed as parents would prevent any discrimination.

In his petition to the U.S. Supreme Court, Hill argued that upholding the lower court's decision would violate common sense and throw into jeopardy parental rights based on biology.

“A birth mother’s wife will never be the biological father of the child, meaning that, whenever a birth-mother’s wife gains presumptive ‘parentage’ status, a biological father’s rights and obligations to the child have necessarily been undermined without proper adjudication,” Hill wrote.  

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