In a win for parental rights, the ACLU of Georgia today announced that the Georgia Department of Public Health has reversed course and issued a birth certificate to ACLU clients Elizabeth Handy and Bilal Walk with the name they designated for their daughter. Now that the Department has complied with its legal obligations, the ACLU has filed a motion with the court to dismiss its suit.
“This is an important vindication of parental rights and a long-overdue victory for Elizabeth and Bilal,” said ACLU of Georgia Executive Director Andrea Young. “No one wants to live in a world where the government can dictate what you can and cannot name your child. It goes against our values, the legislature’s intent, and the plain language of the law.”
On March 23, the ACLU of Georgia, along with cooperating counsel Emmet Bondurant and Michael Baumrind of Bondurant, Mixson & Elmore LLP, filed a Writ of Mandamus on behalf of Elizabeth Handy and Bilal Walk and against Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, in her capacity as Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health, and Ms. Donna L. Moore, in her capacity as the State Registrar and Director of the State Office of Vital Records, asking the court to compel these government officials to comply with their mandatory legal duties under O.C.G.A. § 31-10-9(e)(5) to issue a birth certificate to Elizabeth and Bilal’s infant daughter with the surname “as designated by both parents.”
“We thank the Attorney General for his cooperation and understanding that the legislature’s intent was clear that parents – and not the government – should decide what to name their children,” said Young. “Moving forward, we’ll be working with the Attorney General’s office to ensure that officials around the state who issue birth certificates understand the law and their obligations. We also encourage any parents who have been denied a birth certificate because of the name they designated contact the ACLU of Georgia through our website – www.acluga.org.”
State officials had previously refused to issue a birth certificate to the couple for their daughter, who was born in 2015, for the stated reason that the surname was not the surname of either parent or combination thereof. But the statute for issuing birth certificate states that the birth certificate shall be issued in the surname “as designated by both parents.” In addition, the state had issued birth certificates for two older sons with the same surname – “Allah” – without objection.
Now that the Department has issued the birth certificate, Ms. Handy and Mr. Walk will be able to obtain a Social Security number and medical coverage for their daughter, and enroll her in public school.
“I want to thank our interim in-house counsel Kathleen Burch, and our cooperating counsel, Michael Baumrind and Emmet Bondurant of Bondurant, Mixson & Elmore LLP for their hard work on this case,” said Young. “Most of all, I want to thank our clients, Elizabeth and Bilal, for their courage in stepping forward and fighting for the rights of all parents to name and raise their children as they wish.”