Meet the Chin Family: Plaintiffs in the Florida Birth Certificate Lawsuit

On August 13, 2015, Debbie and Kari Chin - along with two other married same-sex couples and Equality Florida Institute - filed a federal lawsuit challenging Florida's refusal to list both same-sex spouses on their children's birth certificates.

Watch their video and read their interview to learn more about this brave couple who are heading to court to fight for Florida's LGBT families.

Read more about Kari and Debbie Chin in our interview with the couple below: 

Their path to parenthood was long and unfamiliar. St. Petersburg residents Debbie and Kari Chin met in 1999 when both were students at the University of Florida, living in the same dorm. They began as friends. And they identified as straight, having both grown up in conservative religious homes where same-sex attractions were unthinkable.

“We were very confused by our early relationship,” says Kari.

Nevertheless, by the following summer they knew they were ready to commit, and in 2001 they had a private ceremony to solemnize their partnership. For the next seven years, however, they pretended to others including their families that they were just roommates.

(Photo Credit: Leah Haydock Photography - and credit for pic below)

They began careers in education -- Debbie as a third-grade teacher, Kari as a licensed clinical social worker in a school. Having children had been a lifelong dream for each of them. When they were ready, they realized they could no longer keep the true nature of their bond a secret. They told a few close friends, then wrote a letter to 60 relatives at once.

Reactions varied. “Some of them didn’t have a place in their brains where that would even be possible,” recalls Kari.

“It was very difficult for a while,” says Debbie, “but nothing as bad as we anticipated.”

By the time Debbie gave birth to their first child, Eliada, in April 2013, time and love had done their work.

“Our daughter loves her grandparents, and they love her,” says Kari. Both sets of grandparents -- Nana and Pawpaw, Maga and Papa, along with step-grandparent Nana Barbara -- dote on the children and help the two moms with their parenting.

Kari conceived and gave birth to a second child, a son named Amzi, this past February. By then the Chins had gotten legally married in Massachusetts and, thanks to a federal court ruling the previous month, their marriage was now recognized by the state of Florida. They assumed that both of them would be listed on their son’s birth certificate.

But just as had happened in 2013, officials refused. Kari would be the only parent legally recognized.

“I remember the pain of that happening when Eliada was born, and it was me who was ignored,” says Kari. “We’re raising these children together. The irony is that I’m the sole provider for our family” -- Debbie is now a stay-at-home mom -- “and I’m not on my daughter’s birth certificate.”

For Debbie, similarly denied official parenthood of Amzi even though she and Kari are married, “it was almost shocking. I thought, how can that be? How can there be marriage equality when some marriages are unequal?”

“These are our children,” says Kari. “We’ve wanted them from the time we were children ourselves. We wanted them before we met, we wanted them after we met, and we’ve worked hard together to make our family happen. We put all our time and energy together to take care of these children.”

As a school social worker, Kari often deals with children who are neglected by their legal parents. The hypocrisy and inequality of Florida’s birth certificate policy upsets her.

While they fight for their family to be fully recognized, Kari and Debbie are planning more children. With two children in the house ages 2 and under, “it’s pretty much crazy town in here right now,” Kari says. Even so, each would like to give birth at least once more.

Current negotiating range for the eventual number of their brood: Between four and six.

“Debbie comes from a very large family,” laughs Kari.


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