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By W. Gardner Selby November 30, 2012

Conservative group says legislative proposal would lift mothers and fathers from future Texas birth certificates

The leader of a conservative group launched this year warns that legislation supported by gay rights advocates would amend every future birth certificate.

In a Nov. 19, 2012, interview with Austin’s KTBC-TV, Channel 7, Jonathan Saenz, president of Texas Values, which says it seeks to preserve and advance a culture of family values, said he doesn’t expect the measure to pass into law.  But "if this change is made in the law," Saenz said, "it affects everyone’s birth certificates. That means the birth certificates the way they are now, the forms, would not say ‘mother’ and ‘father.’"

Mom and Dad absent from birth certificates?

Asked the basis of his claim, Saenz told us by email the proposal filed by Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, for consideration by the 2013 Legislature strips references to a mother and father from supplemental birth certificates, which describes certificates mostly issued in adoption cases.

Saenz said in the TV interview: "So if you wanted them, any parent wants them," meaning birth certificates, "they’re not going to have ‘mother’ and ‘father’ on there. So this isn’t just about the homosexual lobby wanting their rights. It’s partly about that issue, but this change in the law would impact everyone’s birth certificates."

Chuck Smith, executive director of Equality Texas, which says it lobbies for the elimination of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression, said in an email and online post that partly because Anchia’s House Bill 201 only applies to birth certificates issued in adoption cases, Saenz’s claim is incorrect, a critique that Anchia echoed by telephone. Smith initially brought Saenz’s claim to our attention.

Nearly 30,000 so-called "supplemental" birth certificates were filed by the state from September 2011 through August 2012, according to Christine Mann, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of State Health Services, which filed nearly 388,000 regular birth certificates, the kind issued after babies are born, in the period. Both types, once issued, look the same, she said by email.

Anchia’s proposal would replace a provision in the Texas Health and Safety Code saying that on a supplemental birth certificate, one parent must be a female, named as the mother, and the other a male, named as the father. The law would say instead that the "supplementary birth certificate of an adopted child must be in the names of both adoptive parents," not specifying genders. The measure would take effect in September 2013.

The way the law now works for same-sex couples is that one adoptive parent must choose to be designated as the father, in the case of a male couple, or the mother, in the case of a female couple, and the other parent is not listed on the resulting birth certificate, according to information posted online by State Health Services. By email, Mann confirmed that the 1997 Legislature put the gender-specific requirement in place of the previous law requiring only that parents be listed.

So, would mother and father fade from Texas birth certificates in general?

We noticed that the fiscal note for a similar proposal offered by Anchia in the 2011 session quotes State Health Services as saying relevant forms would be modified to show "Parent 1" and "Parent 2." In contrast, the "Certificate of Adoption" form now filled out to obtain a supplemental birth certificate has spaces for applicants to designate the child’s mother and father.

By phone, two lawyers with expertise in adoption cases told us they do not read Anchia’s proposal as Saenz does.

Michael Lackmeyer of Killeen said the proposal solely relates to birth certificates in adoption cases, not  the vast majority issued after babies are born. Also, he said, he believes the state could keep the existing application for supplemental certificates, perhaps amended with instructions stating the adopting mother need not be a female nor the father a male.

"I don’t really think it’s going to do quite what the opposition thinks it’s going to do," Lackmeyer said.

Jeff Barnett of Austin agreed, saying nothing in the proposal should lead to certificates issued after birth losing "mother" and "father" designations. All the proposal does is remove the hurdle that one adopting parent be male and the other female, Barnett said.

In contrast, Mann of State Health Services offered an uncertain analysis, saying by email that while the proposal may not appear to affect all certificates, that remains a possibility.

If the "modification is made to only supplementary birth records, it may have the effect of identifying adopted persons," Mann wrote. "If you modify just the supplementary birth records of adopted persons by including only gender-neutral references to the parents (e.g. ‘parent 1’ and ‘parent 2’) and leave all other birth records with the ‘mother’ and ‘father’ references, that gender neutral reference/record distinguishes adopted person’s records and thus identifies them, which under current state law, is prohibited. As a result," she said, "we would have to have a consistent reference on all birth certificates going forward so as to not bring attention to those which are for adopted persons."

We had asked Mann if Anchia's proposal would result in "mother" and "father" entries going away from all certificates.

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She replied: "The answer may be no if we can find a way to add ‘or parent’ ‘or co-parent’ or some other additional category along with ‘mother’ and ‘father’ to provide the gender-neutral option provided by the (legislation) on all certificates such as ‘Mother or Parent 1’ and ‘Father or Parent 2.’ This may be an issue of space on the certificates, so it’s unclear at this point if this is an option."

Mann also said the agency "would need to modify more than 20 forms which currently reflect the names of the mother and father to show parent and co-parent to comply with this bill. These modifications would result in programming changes which must be made to the Texas Electronic Registrar and Remote Issuance systems, as well as the web portal. These changes would affect all birth certificates yet to be issued. It would not affect birth certificates already issued."

Finally, we ran her comments by Saenz, Smith and the outside lawyers. Saenz said they uphold his claim. Smith stressed that no form changes are required by Anchia’s proposal.

Lackmeyer said by email that "even though the changes address only supplemental" birth certificates, "who knows what any state agency will do to the entire system to implement that minor change?"

By email, Barnett said the proposal still does not mandate the removal of "mother" and "father" from certificates.

Our ruling

The leader of Texas Values says a proposed change in law would strip "mother" and "father" from Texas birth certificates.

The proposal would eliminate a requirement that adoptive couples seeking a birth certificate list a male father and female mother. But nothing in the proposal explicitly removes mother and father entries on certificates and it seems reasonable to us that any needed tweaks could be made without Moms and Dads vanishing from them.

Then again, the state agency spokeswoman was uncertain about the proposal's effect, which sways us to say that Saenz's claim has an element of truth. We rate it Mostly False.

Our Sources

Emails (excerpted), Chuck Smith, executive director, Equality Texas, Nov. 20, 2012 through Nov. 27, 2012

Emails (excerpted), responses to PolitiFact Texas, Jonathan Saenz, president, Texas Values, Nov. 26 through Nov. 28, 2012

Telephone interview, Rafael Anchia, Dallas, Nov. 26, 2012

Fiscal note to House Bill 415, 2011 Texas Legislature (accessed Nov. 26, 2012)

Telephone interview, Michael Lackmeyer, attorney, Killeen, Nov. 27, 2012

Telephone interview, Jeff Barnett, attorney, Austin, Nov. 27, 2012

Emails (excerpted), responses to PolitiFact Texas, Christine Mann, assistant press officer, Texas Department of State Health Services, Nov. 26 through Nov. 28, 2012

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Conservative group says legislative proposal would lift mothers and fathers from future Texas birth certificates

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