Same-sex couple sues DHHS over parental names on birth certificates

Posted December 17, 2015 2:18 p.m. EST
Updated December 17, 2015 5:55 p.m. EST

N.C. Department of Health and Human Services

— A same-sex couple from Chatham County filed a federal lawsuit Thursday against state Department of Health and Human Services officials, alleging that the agency refuses to list both of their names as parents on their children's birth certificates.

Melissa and Meredith Weiss were married in Canada in 2003 and have two sons, now ages 9 and 7. Melissa Weiss gave birth to both children, which were conceived through in vitro fertilization using donor sperm and eggs from the two women – Meredith Weiss' eggs for the older son and Melissa Weiss' for the younger son.

Before their first son was born, the couple obtained a court order recognizing them both as parents of the child and ordering DHHS to include both names as parents on the child's birth certificate, but the agency listed only Meredith Weiss as the mother, according to the lawsuit. State officials told the couple that North Carolina law "allows only the name of a mother and a father to be listed," so both women's names couldn't be included, the suit states.

Because of the state's stance, the parent not listed on each son's birth certificate had to adopt the child, but they argue that birth certificates are often needed for identification purposes when registering for school, when dealing with insurance and health care providers and when seeking public benefits such as Social Security.

"Because they lack accurate two-parent birth certificates for their sons, the Weisses now encounter obstacles when they are required to show that they are both parents to their two sons in interactions with individuals, institutions, agencies and others," the lawsuit states. "The Weisses suffer from the stress and anxiety that one of them would be unable to make medical and emergency decisions without proof of their parentage on the children's birth certificates."

The lawsuit states that DHHS has entered the names of same-sex couples on birth certificates issued since May 13, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down all state laws barring gay marriage. The Weisses have applied to have their sons' birth certificates amended but have received no response from DHHS, according to the suit.

The couple contends that the state's dividing line for recognizing both parents of children of a same-sex couple is arbitrary and an unconstitutional violation of the equal protection and due process provisions of the 14th Amendment.

"The failure of DHHS to amend the Weiss children's birth certificates deprives these children of the dignity, legally recognized parent-child status, security, support and protections available upon birth to other marital children and denies Melissa and Meredith the privacy, dignity, security, support and protections available to other married parents," the lawsuit states.

DHHS officials said they haven't yet seen the lawsuit.