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A federal judge said Wednesday that Utah must recognize the rights of a married lesbian couple by issuing a birth certificate for their infant daughter that lists both of the women as legal parents.
"The state has failed to show any legitimate reason, actually any reason at all, for not treating a female spouse in a same-sex marriage the same as a male spouse in an opposite-sex marriage with regard to be recognized as the legal parent" when the child has been conceived with donated sperm, U.S. District Judge Dee Benson said.
The ruling in the case of Angela and Kami Roe is the first in the wake of the June U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex unions in all 50 states, attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union said.
Benson's decision was "not unexpected," Utah's Solicitor General Parker Douglas said after the hearing, adding that it is likely there are other aspects of Utah marriage and family law that will have to be reviewed in the wake of the Supreme Court's ruling.
"I'm not a policy-maker, so it's not up to me," Douglas said. "But I would imagine that the legislature, being a responsible legislature, is going to take a look."
Douglas said he didn't know whether Utah would appeal Benson's decision in the Roe case.
The Roes, of West Jordan, married on Dec. 20, 2103 the same day a different federal judge tossed out Utah's law barring gay unions and welcomed baby Lucy into their family in February.
Lucy is the biological child of Kami and was conceived with the help of donated sperm, but the couple were denied a birth certificate that bore both of their names. Under Utah laws governing assisted reproduction, only a married husband whose wife conceives with donated sperm is automatically considered the child's father.
The ACLU sued the Utah Department of Health and the state's Office of Vital Records and Statistics on behalf of the Roes in April, claiming the policy of treating same-sex spouses differently in matters of parentage violates the equal-protection clause of the 14th Amendment.
Benson agreed Wednesday, saying that in light of the sweeping changes in marriage laws in both Utah and the nation, the discrimination was clear.
"I don't think it's a hard case," Benson said. "The laws that now stand are not applicable to the marriage of Angela and Kami Roe."
Benson's decision also prohibits Utah from requiring the spouse of any birth parent to have to take extra measures to be recognized as a legal parent, which means the Roes won't have to go through what is essentially a stepparent or second-parent adoption.
Utah's assisted-reproduction statute addresses only donated sperm, not a woman's egg or surrogacy, so the decision does not affect married gay men.
The Roes, who sat holding hands during the hearing, were greeted with cheers from supporters outside the courthouse. Listening to Benson question Douglas, Kami Roe said she thought the judge would rule in their favor.
Still, the couple was still surprised by his pronouncement, although no judge's ruling changes their commitment to their daughter, Angie Roe said.
"I think we go home the same parents, but we know that I'm going to have the rights soon," Roe said. "Hopefully we're helping other people in the country who are possible going to go this same discrimination. Hopefully we'll be the case to remember."
In court papers and in arguments Wednesday, Douglas said the state had two primary reasons for wanting to preserve the two parts of Utah law that had prevented the Roe's from obtaining the recognition they sought.
Those include accuracy in vital statistics record keeping and family stability, "so that the state of Utah can know for certain, and in the best in interests of the children, what obligations and privileges certain adults have to certain children," Douglas said.
Benson essentially dismissed the rationale, asking Parker repeatedly to explain why the rules for the Roes should differ than those for similarly-situated married men.
"That may have been rational in the past, it may have made all the sense in the world because there were only man-woman marriages," Benson said. "Now we are in a different climate."