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Gay Parents Want Birth Certificate Rule Changed

Under Texas law, same-sex parents cannot both appear on an adoptive child's supplemental birth certificate. A bill authored by Rep. Rafael Anchia would change that, but opponents argue the proposal is an "attack on mothers and fathers."

Brian Stephens, left, and Andy Miller with their son, Clark, on Jan. 21, 2013, in Austin.

Andy Miller and Brian Stephens fell in love 12 years ago while they were training for a marathon on the trails around Lady Bird Lake in downtown Austin. As they began talking about starting a family, they knew of only one same-sex couple who had successfully adopted.

“There weren’t a lot of role models,” Miller said. 

Miller and Stephens adopted their son, Clark, days after he was born in 2007. But on Clark’s birth certificate, only Miller’s name appears under “father.” “Mother” remains noticeably blank — and Stephens’ name is nowhere to be found. 

Texas law prevents gay parents from both being listed on supplemental birth certificate forms for adoptive children. The forms provide space for only one mother, a woman, and one father, a male. The gender-specific language was added in 1997 as a part of a renewed commitment to conservative values, said the amendment’s author, former state Rep. Will Hartnett, R-Dallas. 

Opponents of the provision say it compels same-sex families to present unwieldy paperwork to prove legal parentage for medical care, school enrollment and international travel, and prompts extra scrutiny that can embarrass or confuse children.

Connie Moore, a Houston adoption lawyer, said children do not “understand the legal distinction” when their birth certificate causes a hold-up “while in line to sign up for soccer.”

Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, has filed legislation this session to strike the 1997 amendment from the Texas Health and Safety Code. The first two efforts to pass the bill in pervious sessions died in committee.

Jonathan Saenz, president of the social conservative group Texas Values, said Anchia’s bill is an “attack on mothers and fathers.” He said Texas’ gay community is asking for “special treatment because of their difference in lifestyle,” and called the measure “self-serving.” 

He also suggested that the proposed change would wipe the words “mother” and “father” from the birth certificate. The bill does not explicitly call for that, though the Department of State Health Services confirmed that some changes would need to be made to accurately reflect parentage. 

For Anchia, the bill is more about children than about parents. “When you point out to people that children can be adversely impacted by an inaccurate birth certificate, then the argument becomes clear and persuasive,” he said.

Hartnett, who did not seek re-election last year, said he would want the measure to be reconsidered if there was evidence it was “causing some hardship for the children.”

Though supporters of Anchia’s measure think growing national support for gay rights bodes well for its passage this session, its success may hinge on its initial fate in the House Public Health Committee.  

Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, who has chaired the committee in recent sessions and is likely to do so again this year, said she would wait to see if the bill had the votes. 

“It’s a cultural shift and a big issue,” Kolkhorst said, adding, “You never want to throw a bill out there that just cuts the membership up.” 

As life-long Texans, Miller and Stephens do not plan to leave the state for one that will recognize their family unit. But they struggle with it daily. “We are no different than any other family that lives up and down this block,” Stephens said.

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