Wisconsin Lesbian Couple Win Discrimination Lawsuit Over Their Child’s Birth Certificate

A federal judge ruled last Wednesday that Wisconsin officials discriminated against a married lesbian couple for not allowing the non-biological mother’s name on their child’s birth certificate. Jessamy and Chelsea Torres were married in 2012 in New York and two years later conceived their son through artificial insemination. Chelsea gave birth to their son in 2015, after same-sex marriage became legal in Wisconsin. The couple requested a birth certificate listing them both as the parents but the Wisconsin Department of Health Services gave them one with Chelsea’s name as the sole parent.

“It felt like I got punch right in the stomach,” Jessamy Torres told the Star Tribune. “Through the whole birthing process, we were treated like we were both his parents. … But to have the state kind of erase me from all that, yeah, it was heart wrenching.”

The forms the couple filled out for a Wisconsin birth certificate only had lines asking for the mother’s and father’s name and not the gender-neutral term “parent” that other states now use. There wasn’t an option on the form for Jessamy to add her name. U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb ruled Wisconsin was unconstitutional to treat the couple this way when different-sex partners in the same situation weren’t discriminated against. She directed the department to use gender-neutral terms in their forms including using the words “parent” and “spouse.”

A parent’s name omitted from their child’s birth certificate could present problems for a family when trying to authorize medical treatment, registering for school or day care, boarding an airplane and entitling the child to benefits from a parent’s job. “Everyone else gets a birth certificate right away,” attorney Clearesia Lovell-Lepak told the Star Tribune. “You don’t have to go to court or a lawyer. It just makes you feel a little less than when you have to fight so hard to get what everybody else gets for free right away.”

It wasn’t till a few months ago in May that Wisconsin changed their forms to obtain a birth certificate. They now include two boxes that acknowledges same-sex women couples conceiving through artificial insemination. So this ruling only affects “other female same-sex couples who were artificially inseminated, married before they gave birth and requested a birth certificate before May 2, 2016,” according to the Star Tribune.

Crabb acknowledged that the ruling has a narrow scope and affects a limited number of couples. However she urged the state’s officials to amend their documents that accurately reflects the law and is “more inclusive'” of LGBT people.

“If the department’s inaction continues, it seems inevitable that more lawsuits will follow, bringing along with them the potential for large bills for attorney fees and even damage awards,” Crabb wrote. “The department should act now to prevent these lawsuits, minimize confusion and provide the equal treatment that same-sex couples are entitled to receive under the law.”


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Yvonne S. Marquez is a lesbian journalist and Autostraddle senior editor living in Dallas, TX. She writes about social justice, politics, activism and other things dear to her heart like Selena and tacos. She graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in journalism and has since written and edited lots of gay stuff for the internet. Yvonne calls the borderlands home, strongly identifies with her Scorpio moon sign, and really hopes to crush the patriarchy soon. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter.

Yvonne has written 189 articles for us.

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