Lesbians expecting a baby will be listed as equal parents
By Kate Coscarelli and Patty Paugh, Star Ledger
The Star Ledger, NJ, March 13, 2003
Judge rules both women can have their names on birth
Sometime soon, New Jersey for the first time will issue
a birth certificate that lists two women as the parents
when one of them has a baby.
In a ruling issued Tuesday, Superior Court Judge James
Farber in Newton said both members of the lesbian couple
can be listed as mothers and equal parents when their child
The two Sussex County women, whose identities were sealed
with the court records, are physically connected to the
unborn child – one is carrying the child, who is due
in May; the other woman provided the egg. An anonymous sperm
donor is the father.
Because both women will legally be considered parents,
there would be no custody questions if one should die. The
ruling would also give the child automatic inheritance and
government benefits rights.
The decision only applies to a narrow segment of the population
that matches the same situation as these women, and other
judges are not bound to follow it, said Melissa Brisman,
the Park Ridge attorney who represented the women.
Neither woman could be reached for comment.
While conservative groups said they were looking into legal
or legislative action to stop such practices, the decision
was heralded by many in the legal community who said it
is the most recent in a series of rulings nationwide that
are redefining who is legally recognized as a parent.
“It’s a growing recognition of courts around
the country and around the world that it is important for
a child to have a legally recognized relationship with both
people who bring them into the world with the intention
of being their parents, even if they don’t have a
biological connection to the child,” said Courtney
Joslin, staff attorney at the National Center for Lesbian
Rights in San Francisco.
A few states, such as California, Massachusetts, and Colorado,
have issued birth certificates to same-sex parents.
The practice also is permitted in British Columbia. Same-sex
parents have been recognized in several other states through
adoptions or during custody proceedings, Joslin said.
Over the past year, several influential groups changed
their positions to accommodate alternative families and
The American law Institute and the National Conference
of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws recommended more
parenting rights to same-sex couples. Several leading professional
organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics,
also have issued position papers dealing with various issues
relating to gay and lesbian families.
According to the 2000 U.S. Census, there are 594,000 same-sex
couples in the United States, about 16,600 of whom live
in New Jersey.
Legal groups have worked to address the issue of children
and same-sex couples because most laws were designed to
deal with heterosexual couples, said Katharine Bartlett,
dean of Duke University School of Law, who worked on the
American Law Institute project.
“Since the law is supposed to have answers to things
that keep coming up, everyone is trying to fill in the vacuum,”
New Jersey has issued birth certificates to same-sex couples
since 1995, but only after one parent sought adoption, said
Marilyn Riley, spokeswoman for the state Department of Health
and Senior Services. Sperm donors are not listed on the
This case is different because the birth mother is carrying
an egg donated by her partner, so both have a biological
connection to the fetus, Riley said. “There was a
genetic difference in this case,” she said.
Family policy groups in New Jersey, however, are not buying
John Tomicki, executive director of the League of American
Families, said the judge’s decision defies human biology.
“How can two females be on the same birth certificate?”
Len Deo, president of the New Jersey Family Policy Council,
said the judge’s action broadens rights that state
lawmakers never conferred upon same-sex couples.
Deo accused the judge of “deciding something based
on his interpretation of the law as opposed to clearly reading
The decision could create different classes of people whose
names eventually might be permitted on birth certificates,