Young woman's fight for both mothers to be recognised

By Kate Shuttleworth

From left, Diane Sullivan, Rowen Sullivan and Doreen Shields.
From left, Diane Sullivan, Rowen Sullivan and Doreen Shields.

A bill which would allow a young New Zealander to have the names of both of her mothers on her birth certificate has passed its first hurdle in Parliament tonight.

Labour MP Louisa Wall has sponsored the private bill called the Sullivan Birth Certificate Bill that will acknowledge Rowen Sullivan's unusual situation.

It was voted past its first reading tonight and would now go before the government administration committee.

Rowen, 20, had two mothers - but because she was born before 2005, hasn't been able to have both of them listed on her birth certificate.

She was born in the United Kingdom to lesbian couple Diane Sullivan, who is British, and New Zealander Doreen Shields.

The couple were together for seven years before deciding to have Rowen via invitro fertilisation using a male donor.

They moved to New Zealand in 1999 and were unable to get married.

In 2006, Diane Sullivan became terminally ill with lung cancer and they decided to look at Ms Shields adopting their daughter as Ms Sullivan was the only mother listed on Rowen's birth certificate.

They weren't able to, as they weren't married and weren't allowed under the law to jointly adopt.

Ms Shields applied for guardian status, which expired six months after her partner's death in 2010, when Rowen turned 18.

Rowen was left legally orphaned after her mother's death and decided with Ms Shields to go ahead with an adoption process.

She was given a New Zealand birth certificate but with only one of her mothers' names on it.

Ms Shields said the adoption was also a practicality in terms of her will.

"I hadn't thought about it too much, but it was really important to make sure the adoption went through before she turned 20, because if it hadn't it would have been too late and she would have been in a situation where effectively she would have had no parents and there would have been no legal link to me.

"That could have caused a lot of problems if one of us got sick, or if we should have had a falling out and I tried to cut her off without a penny, she would have no comeback on me,'' Ms Shields said.

She said it was horrible to have her late partner's name stripped from the birth certificate.

"Given what Diane went through and how she struggled to be there for Rowan it was just obscene, quite honestly.''

Rowen said the matter wasn't really about her.

"It's more about my parents - having me in the '90s when gay people having children was very uncommon, they showed a lot of bravery and courage.

"They chose to have me together, and made many sacrifices to give me the best life possible. And I want that to be recognised legally. I had two parents, and my birth certificate should show that.''

Rowen and Ms Shields contacted Ms Wall, whose marriage equality bill was voted into law in April.


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