Monday, August 23, 2010

Mr. Mom

The two month anniversary of Max’s birth had come and gone and we still had no birth certificate for our son.  We had been told by the hospital in Atlanta that we should expect his birth certificate within four weeks. We were starting to get a bit nervous. Was it held up in the system simply due to government bureaucracy? Had the hospital simply gotten the typical time-frame wrong? Or was something more sinister afoot -- was some renegade county clerk from the heart of Dixie refusing to process the birth certificate after seeing that Max’s parents were two men? Were we going to have to sue the state’s Attorney General to force him to issue Max his birth certificate?

Finally, to our immense relief, a couple of weeks ago an envelope arrived in the mail with the return address of Department of Community Health, Vital Records Branch, Atlanta, Georgia. Max’s birth certificate! The first thing we did was to check to make sure that both of our names were listed on it. We are believed to have made legal history in Georgia because we obtained a pre-birth order from a state court judge there stating that even though we are two men, and only one of us is a biological parent of Max, both of our names may still be listed on the birth certificate as Max’s parents. It took a lot of work to get that order! While we were pregnant, we met at our monthly Planning Biological Parenthood for Men group a couple who obtained a pre-birth order in North Carolina. And like Georgia, North Carolina was not known for actively processing pre-birth orders for gay men. The couple said that they thought they might have been the first gay male couple to obtain one in North Carolina. Well, I thought, if they could obtain one in North Carolina then we should at least try for one in Georgia, right?

Normally in Georgia, and in most other states (the exception being California and Arkansas), since I am the biological father my name alone would be listed on the birth certificate. We would have to apply for a second parent adoption for Stewart to be added to insure that he has the same parental rights that I do. But by making history in Georgia and getting a pre-birth order, Stewart’s name is on Max’s birth certificate from the start, so now he doesn’t have to worry about whether or not he will be perceived as a legal parent of Max. If Stewart is traveling alone with Max and for whatever reason he is questioned, all he has to do is show the birth certificate.

While the Vital Records Department made us very happy with the birth certificate, there was one big inaccuracy on it. While I am listed as Max’s “Father,” Stewart is not – he is listed as Max’s “Mother”! With all due respect to you mothers out there, Stewart was not pleased to be included among you! In fact, he had actually anticipated this possibility. While filling out the information for the birth certificate in the days after Max’s birth, we noticed that the paperwork only allowed for one parent to be listed as “mother” and one for “father.” Stewart decided to edit the form by hand to replace the listing for “mother” with “Father # 2.” As an additional attempt to sway Vital Records, we attached a letter to the application requesting that they list us on the birth certificate not as mother and father, but as “Father 1” and “Father 2” or – if that was too gay for them – as the more benign “Parent 1” and “Parent 2.”

When we opened up the envelope two months after Max’s birth we learned that our efforts had failed. Maybe it was political, or some clerk’s moral judgment, but more likely – in our minds --the Department of Vital Records didn’t want to bother to change around their template to accommodate the reality of our family structure. Of course the important thing is that the birth certificate proves that Stewart is Max’s legal parent, even if it isn’t so accurate in the particulars!

When I have shared this story with people, some have asked why Stewart wasn’t listed as “father” and me as “mother.” One friend pointed out that I am playing the more traditional mother role by staying at home with the kid. My sister pointed out that on a birth certificate it is usually definite that the mother is the biological parent and they are not always sure about the dad; in this case, since I am the one that has the definite biological connection, she argued, I should be listed under “mother.”

The reality though is much less philosophical.  The pre-birth court order we obtained had legally established me as Max’s biological father – so Vital Records was required by law to list me as the father on the birth certificate.  In other words, Stewart became "Mother" simply by process of elimination.  Stewart has been a good sport about the whole thing though.  He looks at the bright-side. Now he can ask for breakfast in bed on Mother's Day!


  1. It sounds like it would be quite a bit easier if they just had Parent #1 and Parent #2 listed!!

  2. Brilliant post, Jake. This simple detail of words on a form sums up the larger issues surrounding this so perfectly. It really gets at that precise point where real people, politics, and bureaucracy meet.

  3. My husband and I recently began the process of having a baby through IVF (our swimmers are in the 6 month FDA required quarantine at the moment) with a surrogate in California, where they routinely issue pre-birth orders to list both intended parents on the birth certificate and both as "Parent." Nonetheless, our lawyer recommended that we also do a co-parent adoption because she had clients run into trouble in the state of Florida who wouldn't recognize the validity of the judgment to have both fathers names put on the California birth certificate. So even though we live in Washington DC and are legally married here as an extra layer of insurance we want to legally co-adopt which all states would have to recognize.

  4. Hi there! Congratulations on making history! We are IFs who are just about to be matched with a GS in North Carolina. I thought that it would be impossible to get both of our names on the BC directly. Could you put me in contact with the couple that did this in NC? It would be great if we went through the same law practice. Thanks! Silas

  5. Congratulations on making Georgia vital records history! It's these kind of tiny steps that *eventually* move us forward. We are IFs who are about to match with a GS in North Carolina. I am from NC and didn't think it was possible to get a PBO and BC with two mens' names on it here - this gives me hope! Can you please put me in touch with the IFs that were able to do this in NC? It would be great to talk with them and use the same law practice. Thanks a lot!