The Iowa District Court for Polk County ordered the state’s Department of Public Health to issue an accurate death certificate to Jennifer and Jessica Buntemeyer after their son was stillborn in October of last year.
The couple’s grief was compounded when the Iowa Department of Public Health erased Jenny’s name from the death certificate.
In his ruling, District Judge Robert A. Hutchison referred to Lambda Legal’s 2009 case affirming the freedom for same-sex couples to marry in Iowa, and wrote:
Both partners in a same-sex relationship can also qualify as parents, at least in the ordinary and common sense. See Varnum, 763 N.W.2d at 899–901. Therefore, a mother’s wife is a female parent.
“The court affirmed what should have been clear to the Iowa Department of Public Health from reading Varnum v. Brien – Lambda Legal’s case that established that same-sex couples in Iowa have an equal right to marry – that a child born to a married couple has two parents, regardless of whether the spouses are same-sex or different-sex. Vital records document legal parentage, not biology,” said Camilla Taylor, Marriage Project Director for Lambda Legal. “In this case, the state was not only denying that Jenny and Jessica are both mothers, it was trying to erase Jenny from the family. A death certificate for Brayden is their sole legal record of his existence and his significance to their family.”
The case was filed in February 2012 after the family’s tragic loss was exacerbated when the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) erased Jenny’s name from the death certificate and refused to return their repeated phone calls for an explanation. Under Iowa law, vital records including death certificates reflect legal parentage, and both spouses are parents to any child born during a marriage regardless of whether they have a biological relationship to the child. In March 2012, the Iowa Attorney General’s office filed court documents saying that the state will continue to refuse an accurate death certificate to Jenny and Jessica Buntemeyer, asserting that it was correct in erasing Jenny’s name.
“The Buntemeyer’s will always grieve the loss of their child,” Taylor continued, “but, at least now they do not also have to face denial and discrimination from the government.”
For more information on Buntemeyer v. Iowa Department of Public Health, click here.