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Iowa agency sued after erasing lesbian mom's name from stillborn baby's death certificate

DES MOINES, Iowa -- Lambda Legal filed suit today against the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) on behalf of Jenny and Jessica Buntemeyer, a married Iowa couple seeking an accurate death certificate for their stillborn baby, Brayden.

After the loss of their son, Jenny and Jessica filled out the spaces on the death certificate form for both parents, and indicated that they were married. IDPH sent the couple a death certificate with Jenny's name 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, National Marriage Project director for 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."

Jenny Buntemeyer and Jessica Aiken of Davenport 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, Jessica gave birth in Iowa to Brayden Bruce Buntemeyer, at 30 weeks' gestation. He died in utero prior to labor 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, 2012, 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, Gartner v. Iowa Dept of Public Health, 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 in Gartner 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," Jessica Buntemeyer said. "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."

For more information on Buntemeyer v. Iowa Department of Public Health, visit HERE.

Read the death certificate that originated from the funeral home HERE.

Read the death certificate provided by the Iowa Department of Public Health HERE.

Along with Camilla Taylor the Buntemeyers are represented by Kenneth Upton and Beth Littrell of Lambda Legal and Sharon K. Malheiro of Davis, Brown, Koehn, Shors & Roberts, P.C.