Birth certificate rules changing for same sex parents

"I shouldn't have to adopt my own child." Corinne Gurtler is speaking about her baby boy. She and her wife, Cai Krikorian, have filed a human rights complaint.

“I shouldn’t have to adopt my own child.” Corinne Gurtler is speaking about her baby boy.

She and her wife, Cai Krikorian, have filed a human rights complaint against the Yukon government over how same-sex parents are identified on Yukon birth certificates.

The couple gave birth to Mirek in January.

Krikorian is the baby’s biological mother and the couple used an anonymous sperm donor.

Under the Yukon’s Vital Statics Act, if a same-sex couple has a child, the person who gives birth is listed on the birth certificate as “mother.” If Gurtler wanted her name on her son’s birth certificate, she would have to adopt him.

She doesn’t plan on it and says she shouldn’t have to.

“If a heterosexual couple uses a sperm donor there’s presumptive parenthood for the father,” she said. “Even though it’s not his sperm, it’s still presumptive parenthood. How is that any different?”

After Krikorian gave birth, the family began to fill out all the necessary forms to get a birth certificate for Mirek.

Gurtler says at first they were confused by how gender specific the forms were, with blank spots for “mother” and “father.”

“We thought fine, we’ll just fill out the form. We crossed out ‘father’ and put ‘parent’ to fit us. The hospital sent the form off.”

About a week and a half later they found out about the adoption requirement.

Gurtler calls it ridiculous.

It appears the Yukon government agrees.

Health Minister Doug Graham said yesterday that the offending language will be removed from the Vital Statistics Act before the end of the this legislative session.

Graham said he first heard about the problem from Scott Kent, the family’s MLA and one of the many people they reached out too for help.

Graham said it was clear that changes needed to happen.

“When I talked with Scott I realized that should have been done and it wasn’t. When we became aware of it, we started right away to make changes.”

Graham said the legislation needs to be modernized but was never intended to discriminate.

“The legislation was just written in a different time and it needs this kind of update,” he said.

The new law would do away with the adoption requirement and allow for up to four people to be included on a birth certificate.

“We’ll have the capacity to include sperm donor, surrogate, parent and parent if that were the case,” said Pat Living, spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Services.

Information was not readily available as to how many same-sex couples have had to go through the adoption process under the current rules.

Graham said the new law will mean Gurtler and Krikorian won’t have to go through the adoption process.

“We’re also making it retroactive so that the two parents who brought it to Scott’s attention will be able to have both of their names put on the birth certificate without going through the adoption process,” he said.

Department of Justice lawyers are currently going through the rest of the territory’s legislation to see what other laws will need language changes to reflect same-sex couples.

Graham estimates there is likely five or six other pieces of law that need to be tweaked.

“We’ll have to go through a process to make sure we change them all. Because the worse thing you can do is go through (and) change some pieces of legislation that have unintended consequences somewhere down the road.”

The NDP’s Jan Stick brought up the situation in the legislature.

“It’s well past time that these acts should have been amended to reflect the realities of today,” she said in an interview. “We led the country in same-sex marriages.”

In July 2004, Steve and Rob Dunbar-Edge became the first same-sex couple to marry in the Yukon. But it took a legal battle to get them there.

Stick says since then the territory hasn’t kept up.

“We’re back down at the bottom of the pile again in terms of making sure that other legislation reflects the reality of today and provides equal treatment to everyone.”

With only one name on their son’s birth certificate, things have been difficult for the family, Gurtler said.

They haven’t applied for a registered education savings plan or a social insurance number for their son because they want to both be listed as parents. That can’t happen until they are both listed on the birth certificate.

Gurtler said she is glad the Yukon government is committing to making changes, but the family is not ready to drop its human rights complaint just yet.

Sexual orientation has been covered under the Yukon Human Rights Act since it was passed in 1987.

Section 39 of the Yukon Human Rights Act says that the human rights act supersedes all other acts in the territory, unless it is expressly stated otherwise.

“Basically the Vital Statistics Act is null and void in terms of same-sex parents because it contravenes the human rights act,” Gurtler said.

“So they should be able to grant us the birth certificate. They should have been able to do it from the get-go, they flat out refused to do so.”

Graham wouldn’t comment on the human rights complaint, but said the changes were in the works before the complaint was made.

“We started this long before the human rights complaint because we thought it was the right thing to do,” he said.

Graham took Stick to task for raising the issue in the legislature even though she knew the government was already working on changes.

Any changes to the law will require approval from all MLAs because it’s happening more than five days after the start of the legislature.

“She’s been aware that we’re changing the legislation. She’s been aware that we will need unanimous consent because I’ve already asked her about that. So the motion to me was just a political ploy to try and gain some points, I guess,” Graham said.

Stick said her motion calling for updates to the law is still important because it publicly holds the Yukon Party accountable to make the changes.

“When the family is becoming increasingly frustrated by not hearing what’s going to happen, then it’s my job as an MLA and as an Official Opposition member to bring that forward,” she said.

Gurtler said she’s most frustrated because the government “really had many opportunities to fix this a long time ago and they just simply have refused to do it.”

In May 2012, then-Liberal Leader Darius Elias brought forward a motion in the legislature calling for a full review of the territory’s family, child and property laws. Among other things, the motion asked the review to examine issues related to same-sex couples.

The Vital Statistics Act was not specifically mentioned in the motion, though NDP justice critic Lois Moorcroft did mention it once in the debate. The motion never came to a vote.

Elias has since become a member of the Yukon Party.

Contact Ashley Joannou at

ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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