Mass. moves to standardize birth certificates

By Stephen Smith
Globe Staff / February 17, 2011

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A move by Massachusetts health regulators to standardize birth certificates means that gay and lesbian couples will no longer have to scratch out the “mother’’ or “father’’ designation on the forms and replace it with “co-parent’’ or “second parent.’’

Instead, new, electronic documents provide two boxes, one labeled “mother/parent,’’ the other “father/parent.’’

John Auerbach, the state’s public health commissioner, said he hopes the standardized form will prove “more sensitive to the circumstances of the family and to the children.’’ The state estimates that same-sex couples account for about 200 births or adoptions annually.

Massachusetts law has recognized gay and lesbian parents for nearly two decades, said Kara Suffredini, executive director of MassEquality, a gay rights organization. “And yet they’ve continued to suffer the indignity of having their family formation be invisible on a fundamental form like a birth certificate. It’s about time that comes to an end.’’

Kris Mineau, the president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, which fought same-sex marriage, said the move by Governor Deval Patrick’s administration was predictable. “The current administration has always promoted same-sex marriage and the results of same-sex marriage,’’ Mineau said.

Until now, Massachusetts, with its fiercely protected tradition of local rule, has had a patchwork of birth certificate forms. Each city or town could have its own. Some were kept electronically, some on paper. The state estimates that as many as 700 variations on the birth certificate existed in the state’s 351 cities and towns.

With the standardized document, all hospitals are expected by the end of March to be able to collect the information electronically and transmit it to cities, towns, and the state. Regulators said they hope the change will assure greater consistency and allow for collection of more reliable data on births.

Auerbach recalled years ago having to make a revision to his son’s birth certificate.

“I remember being at the window where the woman was crossing it out and writing the change,’’ he said. “That was just the way things were done.’’

Stephen Smith can be reached at