It seemed like a minor adjustment. To comply with the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruling that legalized gay marriage in 2003, the state Registry of Vital Records and Statistics said it needed to revise its birth certificate forms for babies born to same-sex couples. The box for “father” would be relabeled “father or second parent,’’ reflecting the new law.
But to then-Governor Mitt Romney, who opposed child-rearing by gay couples, the proposal symbolized unacceptable changes in traditional family structures.
He rejected the Registry of Vital Records plan and insisted that his top legal staff individually review the circumstances of every birth to same-sex parents. Only after winning approval from Romney’s lawyers could hospital officials and town clerks across the state be permitted to cross out by hand the word “father’’ on individual birth certificates, and then write in “second parent,’’ in ink.
Divisions between the governor’s office and state bureaucrats over the language on the forms and details about the extraordinary effort by the Republican governor to prevent routine recording of births to gay parents are contained in state records obtained by the Globe this month.
Deliberations about the policies, including dozens of exchanges about the marriages and births of individual families, are recounted in e-mails and legal memos sent between the governor’s office and lawyers at the Department of Public Health, which oversees the Registry of Vital Records.Romney’s insistence on scrutiny harmed the ‘integrity of the vital record-keeping system,’ one official said.
The practice of requiring high-level legal review continued for the rest of Romney’s term, despite a warning from a Department of Public Health lawyer who said such a system placed the children of same-sex parents at an unfair disadvantage.
Crossouts and handwritten alterations constituted “violations of existing statutes’’ and harmed “the integrity of the vital record-keeping system,’’ the deputy general counsel of the department, Peggy Wiesenberg, warned in a confidential Dec. 13, 2004, memo to Mark Nielsen, Romney’s general counsel.
The changes also would impair law enforcement and security efforts in a post-9/11 world, she said, and children with altered certificates would be likely to “encounter [difficulties] later in life . . . as they try to register for school, or apply for a passport or a driver’s license, or enlist in the military, or register to vote.”
Romney’s interventions mostly resulted in delays awarding birth certificates for women married to same-sex partners who gave birth. Gay men seeking parental rights were required to take a different route, by obtaining a court order. By law, birth certificates must be issued within 10 days of birth, and in some instances, those deadlines were not met.