It is common practice for parents to seek new birth certificates for their adopted children in which the adoptive parents’ names are substituted for those of the birth parents. Ordinarily, the Department of Vital Records honors such requests through a simple administrative procedure. But when same sex couples sought to have both their names placed on their adopted children’s birth certificates, Vital Records refused.
Because Virginia does not allow same sex couples to adopt, the issue of entering both names of gay or lesbian couples on new birth certificates does not typically arise. In this instance, however, the children where born in Virginia, but adopted by same sex couples under the laws of Maryland, New York and Pennsylvania. Only the Virginia Department of Vital Records can issue the new birth certificates.
“This should be a straightforward process in which the adoptive parents, regardless of their gender, fill out a simple form and obtain new birth certificates for their children,” said ACLU of Virginia executive director Kent Willis.
“But this is Virginia,” added Willis, “where lawmakers just banned civil unions and many other kinds of contracts made between gay and lesbian couples. The anti-gay bias runs deep here, even affecting routine paperwork.”
Lawyers for the ACLU of Virginia and private practice attorneys from Washington, D.C. initially challenged the state’s policy in Richmond Circuit Court in May 2002. They argued then and now that the state’s policy violates the Virginia birth certificate statute, the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which requires states to honor each others’ judicial decrees.
Lawyers representing the plaintiffs in the case are Rebecca K. Glenberg, legal director of the ACLU of Virginia; Michael Ward, David Lubitz, and Steven Tave with Swidler Berlin Shereff Friedman, LLP, Washington, D.C.; and Michelle Zavos, Washington, D.C. The case is Katherine Anne Fisher Davenport et. al v. Deborah Little-Bowser et al.
Contacts: Kent Willis, Executive Director, ACLU of Virginia, 804-644-8022 Rebecca K. Glenberg, Legal Director, ACLU of Virginia, 804-644-8022