Co-parenting the birth certificate

January 18, 2012

“Resistance to giving me the birth certificate,” I texted my wife Tuesday from the brightly lit basement office of Cook County’s Office of Vital Records.

I was there to pick up our son’s official papers, vital for a million real world things, like a passport. 

“Like they won’t give it to you?” she texted back.

“Correct,” I texted.

We’d heard a few stories of same sex couples getting the wrong info on their child’s birth certificate, but not about anyone having the document denied.

And that wasn’t exactly what was happening. But there seemed to be a hitch in releasing the document to me.

I’d arrived at the county offices, read a couple of chapters of a book while waiting in line, and had had a very conventional interaction until just before I’d texted my wife. I’d shown my identification (an Illinois license), and given my son’s name and birthdate to the clerk, who quickly found him on the computer rolls.

We hadn’t been interacting more than a couple of minutes when he showed me the birth certificate and asked me to check it. Absolutely everything was in order.

Then he took it back and asked me to confirm my birth date. Except that he’d read my wife’s birthdate.

“No,” I said, “it’s June 28, 1956.”

He looked at the certificate. “But you’re the mother, right?”

“Yes,” I said, “let me show you.” I pulled the certificate closer to me and pointed to where it said “Father/Co-Parent.” I let my finger slide from my name to my birthdate.

“Just a minute, please,” he said. He walked away, document in hand, to the far end of the counter and conferred with various fellow employees. They all craned their necks to look at me. The entire line of waiting people turned with them. There was a lot of staff shrugging and head shaking. One guy made an unhappy face.

My wife texted, “Why?” As in, Why aren’t they giving it to you? Since the passage of Illinois Civil Unions Law last July 1, same sex parents have been allowed to put both their names on a child’s birth certificate.

“I’m now schooling them on law, nicely,” I texted my wife.

And indeed, when the clerk came back I’d explained to him that here shouldn’t be an issue, that the certificate clearly stated inclusion with “father/co-parent.”

“Oh, yes, I know the law,” he said. “We do a lot of civil unions here.” And he pointed to one end of the office, as if there was a chapel or special place down there.

“Are they being dicks or just ignorant of the law?” my wife texted. “Ignorant,” I texted back.

Because it was clear to me that they knew about it but were unsure how to proceed. Could it possibly be as simple as just handing me the document, without having to do anything special? Could it be that, in the eyes of the law, my kid’s birth certificate and the straight couple’s next to me in line were exactly the same?

In the meantime, the certificate had been passed off to a second clerk, the one who’d made the face.

“Is there a problem?” I asked him as he stood just behind the first clerk, staring at the certificate in his hand as if he was waiting for it to decode a secret message.

He made the same face, a combination of skepticism and ick. “You the mother?” he asked.

“Yes, the co-parent. All the information is correct.”

He made the same face yet again. “Just a minute,” he said, and went to the opposite end of the counter to do additional conferring. He made a brief pit stop to flirt/help an attractive young woman on the way. 

Once again, the office staff gathered around the certificate as if it were a missing leaf from the Dead Sea Scrolls. Lots of scrutiny, including turning it over a few times. A huddle. A ring of heads emerging and craning and looking over at me. The spotlight unnecesarily on me. Then a quick descent back to the huddle, and everyone separating, shrugging, shaking heads. The guy with my son’s certificate raised his eyebrows in mild incredulity.

He came back to me with it. “It’s okay, I guess,” he said, and shrugged.

By this time, the first clerk was pretty embarrassed. He took the certificate and handed it to me. “I have three kids myself,” he said as he took my credit card for payment. “It’s important to enjoy them while you can. They grow up so fast.”

Some faster than others but, yes, in the end, we all grow up.

“Got it,” I texted my wife, and went off to do the rest of my errands.