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Health department erases lesbian mom’s name on death certificate

An Iowa couple is suing the state public health department over its decision to omit a mom's name from the death certificate for their stillborn baby.

Lambda Legal filed the suit this week on behalf of Jenny and Jessica Buntemeyer, a married Iowa couple seeking an accurate death certificate for their stillborn baby, Brayden.

The two women, in completing a death certificate, indicated that they are married and the parents of Brayden.

But when the Iowa Department of Public Health sent the formal certificate to the couple, Jenny Buntemeyer’s name was erased.

“This is an egregious display of insensitivity and disregard for Iowa law, which states that the spousal presumption of parentage applies to children born to same-sex spouses in the same manner it applies to children of different-sex spouses,” said Camilla Taylor of Lambda Legal. “A different-sex married couple grieving a similar loss would receive a two-parent death certificate with no questions asked. Death certificates and other vital records like birth certificates document legal parentage, and not biology. To white out a mother’s name from her stillborn baby’s death certificate is cruel to a family that is already devastated.”

The two women met in 2008 and fell in love while serving in Iraq. They married in Iowa on Oct. 8, 2010, and remain in the Army Reserves.

After planning a family together, Jessica became pregnant via in vitro fertilization and an anonymous donor. On Oct. 21, 2011, she gave birth in Iowa to Brayden Bruce Buntemeyer, at 30 weeks’ gestation. He died in utero after his umbilical cord became wound around his neck.

On the fetal death certificate form, Jessica filled out the boxes for “mother” and Jenny filled out the boxes marked “father,” the only option on the form for a second parent.

On Jan. 12, IDPH issued them a death certificate on which someone had erased Jenny’s name and identifying information. 

A week earlier, in another Lambda Legal case, a Polk County trial court affirmed that the spousal presumption of “legitimacy” applies equally to children born to married same-sex couples, and ruled that Iowa’s birth certificate statute must be interpreted in a gender-neutral way. The court ordered IDPH to issue a birth certificate to the child listing both same-sex spouses as parents. IDPH recently appealed that ruling.

“After the loss of our son, Jenny and I were just trying to process our grief and get through it together,” said Jessica Buntemeyer. “To erase Jenny’s name from the death certificate was like trying to erase all the love, commitment and work we had both put into planning a family. We were in complete shock.”

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