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Pop quiz: What’s the first legal document you’re given in your life, the one that tells our vast governmental bureaucracy who you are and who is responsible for your brand-spanking-new self? Yep, that would be your birth certificate. For many people, it’s a fairly uncomplicated document listing your name, date of birth and weight as well as a few trickier items like gender and parents. The gender marker has long been a source of pain and difficulty for trans and intersex people, who can spend their whole lives fighting the misconceptions of the doctors who looked at their infant bodies and thought they knew them. The parental marker is problematic in a different way, but one that is becoming more prevalent as more same-sex couples have children. Now, new legislation surrounding parental markers is being introduced in an attempt to improve how they function.
“It came to my attention that actually some of my constituents — women who had a child — were facing the indignity of having to designate themselves as the father of their newborn on their child’s birth certificate,” New York State Senator Brad Hoylman said Thursday, when he introduced legislation to fix this problem. “This bill saves them from having to do that when obviously they aren’t that — as well as adding an option for a different designation, a neutral designation.”
Birth certificates in New York currently have just two options: “mother/parent” and “father/parent.” If approved, Hoylman’s proposal would replace those with three options: “mother,” “father” and “parent.” Yep, that’s right — it would include a gender neutral option for parents who don’t want to be labeled either a mother or a father. To ensure that two same-gender parents who are adopting a baby from birth can also be labeled properly on birth certificates, Hoylman has also sponsored the Child-Parent Security Act, which would guarantee “intended parents” are recognized as, you know, parents, without having to jump through a thousand bureaucratic hoops.
As more LGBT couples have more kids in more diverse ways, from adoption to surrogacy and beyond, courts have had to deal with the issue of how to legally denote parenthood. Hoylman’s bills are modeled on one that passed in California earlier this year, after several cases across the country where families took their birth certificate qualms to court, including one in Florida where a lesbian couple and their sperm donor all wished to be recognized as parents.
LGBT families are under constant scrutiny, especially when it comes to raising children. The fear that one or both parents may not be recognized as such starts on day one, when that birth certificate gets filled out incorrectly. Simply changing the options provided on a government form may not seem like a huge step, and but for a couple who have likely spent a considerable amount of time and money to start a family, the protection provided would be an immeasurable relief.