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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, January 13, 2017 - Volume 45 Issue 02
Florida settles lawsuit on birth certificates for children of same-sex couples
Section One
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Florida settles lawsuit on birth certificates for children of same-sex couples

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

The state of Florida agreed on January 5 to settle a federal lawsuit over birth certificates issued to children born to same-sex couples.

Two married Lesbian couples and the Equality Florida Institute sued the state in 2015 after health officials refused to include both parents' names on the documents. The lawsuit came months after same-sex marriages became legal in Florida and two months after the US Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges.

Florida health officials claimed they lacked the authority to change birth certificate forms without legislative action. However, the Republican-controlled legislature did not approve any changes to Florida laws that might recognize the legality of same-sex marriage in the state.

Consequently, only birth mothers, and not their spouses, were listed as parents on birth certificates.

The Florida Department of Health asked US District Judge Robert Hinkle last May to dismiss the lawsuit. State officials argued that the issue was moot because they had started listing both spouses on birth certificates of children born to same-sex couples and had started a rule-making process to allow the designation of 'parent' in addition to 'mother' and 'father' on the birth records.

Lawyers for the same-sex couples objected, saying that the Health Department's 'recent remedial measures are both substantively incomplete and procedurally lacking in finality' and that the issues are not moot.

On January 5, however, lawyers for both sides filed a document telling Hinkle they had reached a settlement in the case.

Under the settlement, the state agreed to issue corrected birth certificates free of charge to the plaintiffs and to all same-sex couples who received incorrect documents.

The state also pledged to apply the statute regarding birth certificates 'and any forms promulgated based on that statute to same-sex spouses in the same manner as they are applied to opposite-sex spouses.'

And finally, the state also agreed to pay $55,000 to in legal fees and costs to the plaintiffs.

'The LGBTQ community can now celebrate a long-awaited victory,' said Hannah Willard, Public Policy Director for Equality Florida.

'Married same-sex couples deserve to be treated fairly and equally before the law in all ways, including in the recognition of our families. Thanks to years of hard work by the National Center for Lesbian Rights and our local attorneys, the State of Florida has agreed to our terms so that we can put this discrimination behind us.'

'Through the course of this lawsuit, Florida took important steps to protect same-sex couples and their families, and we are very happy that the state has now fully resolved the case,' said National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) senior staff attorney Amy Whelan.

'Leaving children and families vulnerable in this way benefits no one, and we hope other states will follow Florida's example.'

The NCLR represented the plaintiffs in the case, along with private attorneys Mary Meeks and Elizabeth Schwartz.

'I am happy that Florida same-sex couples can finally look forward to full and equal recognition as parents of their children and hope other states will follow suit as well,' Meeks added.

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