2 Omaha Women Sue For Right To Appear On Birth Certificates

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Two Omaha women sued the state's public health agency on Monday after it denied their request to list both of their names as parents on their children's birth certificates.

Erin Porterfield and Kristin Williams allege in their lawsuit that state officials treat unmarried, same-sex couples differently than unmarried, opposite-sex couples, in violation of their due process and equal protection rights.

The women argue that listing them both is critical because it could affect their children's eligibility for government benefits, should something happen to one of them. They also accuse the state of sexual discrimination because it allows men to voluntarily acknowledge that they are parents to get onto a birth certificate, but doesn't allow women to do so.

“Our sons are our entire world and we want to make sure we're doing right by them,” Porterfield said. “Our boys have a right to the security of having both parents on their birth certificates, a required document in so many life changes and decisions. That's why this matters to us.”

Porterfield and Williams began a romantic relationship in 2000 and used an anonymous sperm donor to have two children, according to the lawsuit. Porterfield gave birth to their first son in 2002 and Williams gave birth to their second son in 2005. They raised the children together until they ended their romantic involvement in 2013, but they continued to share parenting duties.

The women said they eventually got a court order placing each of them in an “in loco parentis” relationship with their non-biological son — a temporary legal status that recognizes them in the position of a parent, but stops short of giving full parental rights.

They then tried to get full legal recognition as parents of both sons by trying to amend one son's birth certificate, but the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services repeatedly denied their request.

In one rejection letter, the department said state law only allows it to recognize people as parents for couples who are legally married, have adopted the children or are biologically related to the children.

“Accordingly, for the Department to take the requested actions, it would need to interpret new meaning into the current laws,” Bo Botelho, the agency's general counsel, wrote in the letter. “This would extend beyond the authority of the executive branch and infringe upon the constitutional purview of either or both the legislature and the courts.”

The department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Sara Rips, an American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska attorney who is representing the women, said the lawsuit underscores the harm of laws that only conform to one type of family.

Rips said both women have been loving and involved with the children since birth.

“I know that if one of them were a man, the department would have accepted their acknowledgement without any thought or inquiry,” she said. “Instead, these women are facing discriminatory treatment that's clear unconstitutional.”

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