The Austin Chronicle

Texas Changes Birth, Death Certificate Policy for Same-Sex Couples

By Mary Tuma, August 13, 2015, 2:30pm, Newsdesk

Under court pressure, the state of Texas has issued new birth and death certificate policy guidelines for same-sex couples.

Despite the June U.S. Supreme Court marriage equality victory, LGBTQ couples face a number of remaining struggles when it comes to issues of family law, including obtaining accurate birth and death certificates (historically gender-specific documents), as the Chronicle reported earlier today. The threat of a lawsuit recently prompted state officials to work faster to eradicate at least some of the barriers gay parents and spouses continue to experience.

Following the state’s denial of a request by dying man, John Stone-Hoskins, to change the death certificate of his deceased husband, federal Judge Orlando Garcia called on Attorney General Ken Paxton to be held in contempt of the court for disobeying the 5th Circuit’s affirmation of the SCOTUS ruling. As per Garcia’s order, the state had to revise their policy by Aug. 24 and also accept any pending birth and death certificate applications. While Paxton – a fan of anti-LGBT demagoguing – refused to attend the Wednesday, Aug. 12 hearing, the Department of State Health Services ended up releasing the new policy revisions that day.

Attorneys who focus on LGBTQ issues – understandably skeptical – are in the process of reviewing the state-issued guidelines to ensure they reflect the legal realities and have the intended impact for same-sex couples. The consensus among them is that the new requirements are nearly sufficient – they still appear to exclude informally married, or “common-law” married, same-sex spouses, says local attorney Ian Pittman.

Pittman, along with Lambda Legal, represent Austin-based same-sex couple, Robin and Leigh Jorgeson (also Pittman’s legal partner), who were previously denied accurate birth certificates for both their sons. By alerting Garcia of their situation in a formal letter, the couple hoped their story would help ensure all same-sex couples see fair birth certificates, in addition to death certificates. After the policy was issued, Leigh is expected to receive an amended birth certificate for her oldest son, but in the meantime will be listed as a father. While amended death certificates reflecting same-sex couples are being issued, DSHS noted in their memorandum the birth certificate transition will be delayed due to “software modifications” by a third-party vendor that hosts the platform for vital records. (They also say they’ve had “multiple calls” with the vendor to produce a timeline.) When that is complete, the certificates will actually have the option of listing “parent” rather than gender-specific and limiting “mother” and “father.” Surviving same-sex spouses who lost their partner can obtain an amended death certificate if their spouse died on or after June 26.

You can read a copy of the memo here.

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