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After months of back and forth, state allows same-sex couples to be listed on birth certificates

For the last month, Anchorage parents Kim and Dana Ward-Massey have been busy dealing with the recent birth of their daughter, Charlotte, and all the complications that come with being first-time parents.

But the new parents had one particularly stubborn struggle: Getting approval for their daughter's birth certificate.

Kim gave birth to Charlotte on June 8 in Anchorage. Dana, her wife of over three years, filled out the birth certificate form in the hospitals and submitted it to the state's Bureau of Vital Statistics, indicating that she is Charlotte's other parent.

But the couple, who conceived Charlotte through artificial insemination, ran into trouble when the document submitted to the state Bureau of Vital Statistics was denied because the state did not process birth certificates listing two parents of the same sex.

The couple was told they could apply for Dana to adopt her daughter as a stepparent. That process is relatively simple, involving additional paperwork and a $75 fee. But Dana declined.

"Do I wait, or do I do what I believe is my right?" Dana said in a midtown coffee shop earlier this month. "I don't want to one day tell my daughter to do what she believes is right, only to be a hypocrite."

The Ward-Masseys found relief last week when the state reversed its stance on the issue. Acting State Registrar Andrew Jessen said the bureau has changed how it handles birth certificates, allowing a same-sex spouse to be listed on birth certificates as the second parent.

Alaska birth certificate statutes still list "husbands" as the father on birth certificates unless otherwise noted. Jessen said the bureau, working under guidance of the Alaska Department of Law, would now disregard that language in favor of the gender-neutral term "spouse."

He said it's an issue the bureau has dealt with since October, when same-sex marriages in Alaska were legalized. He did not know how many couples would be affected by the change.

Even after the June 26 Supreme Court marriage equality ruling, the Ward-Masseys were told the bureau was still waiting from the Department of Law for guidance on the birth certificates. They said it felt like being in limbo.

"How long do you wait?" Kim said.

Peter Renn, staff attorney with Lambda Legal, a national organization that advocates for LGBT legal issues, said the issue of birth certificates comes up in other states, but not often.

He said that Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in his majority opinion that the marriage decision is associated with other rights and responsibilities, like birth and death certificates.

"You shouldn't have to jump through that extra hoop," he said of couples having to apply for stepparent adoption. "Heterosexual couples don't have to do that."

Knowing the complicated legal landscape, Kim Ward-Massey connected with the Bureau of Vital Statistics in January to see how the process would work when their baby was born.

On July 6, the Bureau of Vital Statistics enacted the change to allow both parents on the birth certificate and contacted the Ward-Masseys and other families on July 7.

Dana said the couple picked up the birth certificate shortly after being notified, bringing her parents along. Everyone was "ecstatic" over the development, including her mother and father, who also felt like the birth certificate established their rights as grandparents as well.

"It finally feels complete," she said. "No one can tell us who we are as a family, but now no one can tell us who our family isn't."

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