Massachusetts became the first state in the U.S. to legalize same-sex marriages. Now the result is creating lots of problems, one of which is how the state keeps birth certificates. The resolution of this question may involve life-or-death situations in future years. Perhaps a smaller, but equally interesting, question is this: how do genealogists record birth certificate information?
Birth certificates? At first glance, one might wonder how same-sex partners could have newborns. However, nothing is ever simple in today's world. It seems that a number of issues are giving headaches to town clerks and have become a political football for the state's governor, who is strongly against same-sex marriages.
Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, a devout Mormon who fully supports his church's views on homosexuality and same-sex marriages, has been butting heads with same-sex couples over birth certificates for their newborns.
The problem is that birth certificates, as currently written, reflect archaic notions of procreation: one mother and one father. However, in one recent Massachusetts case, two men, one a sperm donor and the other his boyfriend, became "parents" when a surrogate mother gave birth to the donor's child. The two men wanted their names on the birth certificate, with the boyfriend replacing the birth mother. Governor Romney said "no."
Publicity has magnified the issue, and now gay and lesbian parents have asked the state to replace the designations of "mother" and "father" on birth certificates and all state record-keeping with the non-gender-specific terms "Parent A" and "Parent B."
Romney states that, in fact, all persons do have a biological mother and a biological father. Records should reflect that reality to the extent possible, says Romney. Nevertheless, recognizing that married same-sex couples do have children these days, Romney has been instructing hospitals to cross out the word "Mother" or "Father" and write in "Second Parent' as necessary to accommodate individual cases. The governor's view is that these altered certificates, while not perfect, at least resolve the immediate issue of recording the intended, if not the biological, parents' names.
Problems arose recently when Massachusetts town clerks suggested that certificates thus altered might not pass legal muster in some circumstances and urged that new forms be created. Although Romney has refused, it's probably only a matter of time before the courts are asked to intervene.
NOTE: Personal opinion starts here.
All of this makes for interesting reading. There are rights of the individuals involved as well as the legal requirements of the state. Both sides are loudly talking about their "legal rights." While I can see the two sides of this argument, it strikes me that there is one silent voice in this entire brouhaha: What are the legal rights of the newborn?
Today we see thousands of adoptees petitioning courts to open long-sealed birth records. For years, those whose birth certificates do not reflect biological facts have gone to extraordinary lengths to determine the truth. While some of these searches are done for personal gratification, many of the more heart-wrenching stories involve the search for information about inherited medical conditions. It seems ironic that anyone would consider omitting basic biological information from a birth certificate just as DNA research shows increasing promise of help in identifying and predicting medical conditions.
In case after case, adoptees are seeking to prolong their own lives as well as the lives of their children and grandchildren. They need to know the biological truth in order to save lives. I would suggest that all children born into non-traditional families have a right to learn about their biological parents, especially when critical medical issues are involved.
Shouldn't the children who entered this world in a non-traditional environment have the same rights as adoptees? In fact, aren't they adoptees themselves, even if the legal system does not use that term? Who is speaking for these newborns? Do they have a right to know their true biological inheritance as well as the "facts" as stated by those who raise them?
In the meantime, I have one more question for genealogists: how do YOU keep records of such "families" in your database?