News In Brief: Louisiana Birth Certificates

I don’t think I’ve written about birth certificates yet, or if I have it was long ago that I have forgotten.  (And I didn’t make it a tag.)   They are interesting documents.

I think many people think of birth certificates as a formal documentation of a historical facts–this child was born at this time and this place and these people are the child’s parents.   I suppose they are documentation of the time/place part.   But the “parent” recorded on the birth certificate does not reflect a similar historical fact.  It is not a statement, for example, that this particular woman gave birth to this child.

Instead, a birth certificate usually reflects the identity of the child’s current legal parents.  What I mean is that upon completion of an adoption, a new birth certificate is issued for that child and that new birth certificate, while maintaining the same time/place information, will have the names of the new adoptive parents.

I suppose you could view this as an effort to rewrite history.   But I’m really not convinced that what it is.   The adoptive parents don’t generally pretend that they actually gave birth.   Instead, I think it is in part a convenience.   So often one is required to produce a child’s birth certificate and if it had some other people’s names on it, life would be more complicated.

I don’t think a birth certificate is really a documentation of historical fact at all.   Instead, it is, as I suggested, a reflection of the then-current legal reality:  these people are the legal parents of this child.

It’s important to understand that the birth certificate does not, in and of itself, create legal reality:  The fact that a person is listed on a birth certificate does not make that person a legal parent.   There are certainly cases where a person is named on a certificate (historically the typical case would be one where a man’s name was listed) when he was not in fact the legal parent of the child.

This last point is sometimes overlooked with serious consequences.   If two women seek to raise a child together, both as parents, they may think they have reached their goal if they are able to obtain a birth certificate with both women’s names on it.   But this may or may not be the case.   It’s possible that all they have is a piece of paper with two names on it, devoid of any legal effect.

All of this is preliminary to the point I want to make, but it also may be enough for the day.

One response to “News In Brief: Louisiana Birth Certificates

  1. I’ve gotten much more sensitized about birth certificates by adoptees (though this is not the point of your post). It’s hard for people to see the distinction you’ve drawn. Certainly gay parents should be entitled to the same documentation as anyone else, whether that’s an amended birth certificate or not.

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