Rich Vaughn, IFLG: U.S. Discriminates Against Children of Same-Sex Parents Born by Surrogacy Abroad

Children Born Abroad Via Surrogacy Denied U.S. Citizenship

The conflict and division surrounding immigration in the United States have spread beyond border crossings and asylum claims. Based on a narrow interpretation of existing law, U.S. authorities have not only denied citizenship to the children of married U.S. citizens, they are applying the law in a way that discriminates unfairly against married same-sex parents.

As reported in The Daily Beast, back in 2013, when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act, the Department of Homeland Security issued a guidance stating that it would evaluate the validity of and apply the law to same-sex marriages in the same way it would evaluate and apply the law to heterosexual marriages. But the children of gay and lesbian parents born abroad—even babies born to active service members on U.S. military bases—are being subjected to a different standard of scrutiny and provenance than children of heterosexual parents born in similar circumstances.

The U.S. State Department’s failure to apply the law uniformly has triggered several lawsuits. Most recently, a married gay couple from Georgia sued the department for unconstitutionally refusing to recognize the “rightful American citizenship” of their daughter, born via surrogacy in England in July 2018, as reported by Kate Brumback of Associated Press.

The dads, who reside in Decatur, Georgia, are both U.S. citizens, and both are listed as fathers on their daughter’s birth certificate. Derek Mize was born and raised in Mississippi; Jordan Gregg was born and raised in England and holds dual U.K. and U.S. citizenship.

The two met in 2014 in New York, and Gregg soon moved to the U.S. to be with Mize. They married in 2015 and moved to Georgia in 2017, as Brumback reports.

Daughter Simone was born in July 2018 in England, with a close friend of the family as surrogate, and the family returned to their home near Atlanta, Georgia, in September 2018.

It was not until they tried to get a Social Security number for Simone that the dads were told they needed a consular record of birth abroad (CROB) or a U.S. passport for Simone from the U.S. embassy in London. In April 2019, the family traveled to London, where all three appeared in person, armed with the dads’ U.S. passports, marriage certificate, and Simone’s birth certificate listing both men as fathers. Dads and baby underwent three hours of questioning on how Simone was conceived and her parentage, only to be informed Simone was not eligible for citizenship.

The department’s decision was based on an interpretation of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), originally enacted in 1952, at a time when reproductive technologies such as surrogacy and non-traditional families such as theirs were unimagined. The citizenship of children born via assisted reproduction was not addressed in the law until 2014, when an updated interpretation was issued clarifying that a child born abroad who is genetically related to one U.S. citizen has a right to citizenship—a step forward at the time because, until then, there was NO stipulation in the law for children born via ART. According to the State Department website:

Even if local law recognizes a surrogacy agreement and finds that U.S. parents are the legal parents of a child conceived and born abroad through ART, if the child does not have a biological connection to a U.S. citizen parent, the child will not be a U.S. citizen at birth.

However, as the State Department also interprets the law, children born abroad via surrogacy who are genetically related to only one U.S. citizen parent are considered to be “born out of wedlock”… even when their intended parents are legally married. From the department website:

A child born abroad to a surrogate, whose genetic parents are a U.S. citizen father and anonymous egg donor, is considered for citizenship purposes to be a person born out of wedlock of a U.S. citizen father, with a citizenship claim adjudicated under INA 309(a).  This is the case regardless of whether the man is married and regardless of whether his spouse is the legal parent of the child at the time of birth [emphasis ours].

Aside from the term’s negative and hurtful connotations, the designation “born out of wedlock” triggers an additional level of bureaucratic scrutiny and tests the intended parents must pass in order to determine whether their child is eligible for citizenship.

As reported by The Daily Beast:

Children born out of wedlock face higher legal and logistical hurdles to obtaining birthright citizenship: In addition to submission of DNA tests proving genetic links to U.S. citizen parents, their parents must be able to testify that they can support their children financially, and must prove that they have been present in the United States for at least five years prior to the child’s birth [emphasis ours].

In Simone’s case, she is genetically related to only one of her dads: Gregg, the dad who holds a dual UK/US citizenship. But Gregg, who married Mize in 2017, did not meet the residency requirements necessary to automatically transmit his U.S. citizenship to Simone. He had only moved to the U.S. in 2014—some four years prior to Simone’s birth, not the required five. In the State Department’s view, Simone’s other dad, Mize, who easily met the residency requirement, but who is not genetically related to Simone, doesn’t count.

The State Department argues that its policies regarding the citizenship of children born abroad via assisted reproduction do not discriminate and are applied equally, regardless of whether the married intended parents are heterosexual or same-sex couples.

But in practice, and the core constitutional issue in a growing number of lawsuits: heterosexual parents do not face the same level of scrutiny as same-sex couples because, as same-sex couples, they stand out. As Brumback of Associated Press writes:

During their three-hour wait at the embassy, Mize and Gregg watched about 20 male-female couples come in, present the same documents they had provided and walk out with passports for their children, Mize said. None of them were asked how the child was conceived and whether they were biologically related, he said.

As The Daily Beast reports, following the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning the Defense of Marriage Act, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued a guidance stating “just as [U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services] applies all relevant laws to determine the validity of an opposite-sex marriage, we will apply all relevant laws to determine the validity of a same-sex marriage.” From the article:

That “assumption of parentage,” as the State Department calls it, now seems to LGBT parents to be reserved solely for heterosexual married couples. Only same-sex couples, whose non-traditional family structure sticks out like a sore thumb, end up facing scrutiny over how their children came into the world, parents told The Daily Beast—and as a result, whether they are eligible for birthright citizenship.

Among those LGBT parents whose families have been impacted by the State Department’s discriminatory application of the law are Elad and Andrew Dvash-Banks (see our February 2019 article), a bi-national married couple who fathered twin boys via surrogacy. Because one twin is genetically related to Israeli citizen Elad, the U.S. State Department has denied his right to U.S. citizenship, while his brother, born of the same surrogate and genetically related to U.S. citizen Andrew, became a U.S. citizen at birth.

As we reported in February, the Dvash-Banks challenged that decision in federal court and won. The federal Central District of California court ruled that the baby was a U.S. citizen at birth and gave the State Department 60 days to appeal. As reported by The Daily Beast, on the 60th day, the Trump administration filed an appeal in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, despite that court’s earlier rulings upholding the lower court position. The case is pending.

In another case cited by The Daily Beast, two married female U.S. military officers, one retired and one currently serving, faced a battle over the citizenship of their son born on an overseas military base in 2018. Although the State Department claims it requires additional documentation for all children born abroad via ART, as one of the moms pointed out, “State says children born through ART require extra paperwork for proof of citizenship, but there are no boxes on any citizenship forms which indicate ART is used.” As reported:

When their son was born on an American military base abroad last fall, it took months for their application for his U.S. passport to be processed—and only after they submitted reams of paperwork proving that one of the two women was the gestational mother, confirming whether or not the former officer had a “genetic relationship” with her son, and “physical evidence” that they had used an anonymous sperm donor.

“If we did [in-vitro fertilization] and were hetero, we could have a different egg and sperm that were not genetically related to us, but due to… the ‘assumption of parentage’ which exists for married couples, they would not question the birth,” said the former officer, who asked to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of her wife’s position in the military.

In 2017, during my tenure as chair of the American Bar Association Assisted Reproduction Technology Committee, the ABA House of Delegates approved a resolution recommending that the Immigration and Nationality Act recognize children born via ART as long as one parent is a U.S. citizen—even if the child is not genetically related to the U.S. citizen parent. The resolution also urged the State Department to create guidelines that recognize the parental authority of intended parents, to cease the practice of categorizing children born to parents who are legally married or in civil unions as “born out of wedlock,” and to apply these expanded interpretations retroactively.

Had Trump not won in 2016, I believe we would have had some success in seeing State implement this new interpretation. As we have reported on extensively, the European Court for Human Rights has generally moved to require its member nations to prioritize protecting children’s’ citizenship rights and to give full faith and credit to parentage and marriage credentials from other nations. Yet the United States has of late moved in an opposite, more restrictive direction, and, in the current political environment, the policy evolution called for by the American Bar Association has moved to the State Department’s back burner, to be revisited in the future under a more supportive administration.

But, for a range of reasons, a growing number of intended parents continue to look to other nations to pursue their dreams of having a family. In too many parts of the world, including U.K. and the state of New York, surrogacy is banned outright or rendered impractical due to legal restrictions on surrogacy agreements and surrogacy compensation. In many Western nations where surrogacy is safe and legal, high costs drive couples to seek surrogacy abroad.

As things stand today, U.S. citizens engaging in assisted reproduction overseas should proceed very cautiously and investigate thoroughly in advance to determine whether they will have any problems transmitting their citizenship to their children born abroad. Engaging in surrogacy or other types of ART abroad is always a risk. Consult an attorney familiar with the laws of the United States and other applicable countries before taking a risk that may put your child’s future citizenship in jeopardy.


Rich Vaughn
Richard Vaughn

Attorney Rich Vaughn is founder and principal of International Fertility Law Group, one of the world’s largest and best-known law firms focused exclusively on assisted reproductive technology, or ART, including in vitro fertilization (IVF), surrogacy, sperm donation or egg donation. Rich is co-author of the book “Developing A Successful Assisted Reproduction Technology Law Practice,” American Bar Association Publishing, 2017.

Peiya Wang
Paralegal (律师助理)

Peiya Wang joined IFLG as a paralegal in 2015, where she manages surrogacy, egg donation and parental establishment cases and provides translation services for many of IFLG’s international clients. Peiya received her bachelor’s degree from Beijing Technologies and Business University, where she majored in Marketing. She moved to the United States in 2012 to attend Northeast University in Boston, Massachusetts, receiving a Master of Science degree in Global Studies and International Affairs in 2014. Peiya moved to Los Angeles in 2015 and received her paralegal certification from UCLA Extension. When away from the office, Peiya is a dragon boat paddler and a ballroom dancer, where she favors Rumbas and Cha-chas. She is fluent in Mandarin and English.

Luis Sosa

Luis R. Sosa joined IFLG as a paralegal in 2016, where he enjoys pursuing his passion for family and reproductive law. While working toward his bachelor’s degree at Florida International University, Luis worked as a paralegal and legal assistant for family law litigation firms in Miami and Washington, D.C. As a paralegal and case manager for IFLG, Luis, who is bilingual in English and Spanish, manages surrogacy, egg donation and other reproductive law cases. In addition to spending time with husband Randy and dog Marty, Luis enjoys being outdoors and appreciating the arts.

Toni Hughes

After receiving her B.S. in Business Management, Toni joined IFLG to pursue her dream of working in the legal field. As a Paralegal with over 10 years of experience in the assisted reproduction technology field, Toni is our Managing Paralegal, responsible for training and managing our paralegal staff. From drafting legal documents to assisting our clients with post-birth matters, Toni embraces the challenge of learning something new in this field each day. Besides spending time with her son, Jordan, Toni enjoys exploring new things, cooking, spending time with family and friends, and serving as a Youth Advisor for “Next Generation.”

Miesha Cowart
Financial Coordinator

Miesha Cowart joined IFLG as a financial specialist in 2014 following a successful career in development and business finance. Miesha previously worked for 10 years in the construction industry as a controller and for 13 years as Development Coordinator for the non-profit U.S. Fund for UNICEF. In her free time, Miesha works with “Next Generation” at her church. “They are my heartbeats!” she says of the youth in her community.


Kim has over 25 years of experience in the legal field and has worked exclusively in surrogacy and assisted reproduction law since 1999. Kim is a senior case manager of surrogacy and egg donation cases, and is also responsible for managing parental establishment cases and interacting with IFLG’s Of Counsel attorneys across the country. With three children of her own, Kim understands the importance of family and finds working in this area of law a rewarding experience.

Rich Vaughn

Attorney Rich Vaughn combined his personal passion as a father of twin boys born via assisted reproductive technology (ART) with more than 20 years of experience in business and technology law to build International Fertility Law Group. Today IFLG is one of the most successful and best-known law firms in the world focused exclusively on fertility law, helping thousands of intended parents through empathetic listening, compassionate guidance, and unmatched legal expertise. As an advocate for reproductive freedom, Rich also contributes his knowledge and time to improving the understanding and practice of ART law, most recently as a founder of and speaker at the first Cambridge University International Surrogacy Symposium held in June 2019, as immediate past chair of the American Bar Association ART Committee, and as a popular presenter to law schools, faculty and advocacy organizations all over the world.

Elizabeth Tamayo

Elizabeth received her Bachelors of Science degree in Criminal Justice from California State University of Los Angeles. Shortly after graduating, she continued her education at the University of California, Los Angeles where she obtained her Paralegal certificate. Elizabeth is fluent in Spanish and has been in the legal field since 2009. She is excited to be a part of the IFLG Team helping families realize their dreams.

Sunny Chien

Sunny joined IFLG as a paralegal in 2017, where she manages surrogacy, egg donation and parental establishment cases for many of IFLG’s international clients. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy from California State University of Los Angeles, where she graduated cum laude. Sunny is bilingual in English and Mandarin and has extensive experience as a legal assistant and paralegal at Los Angeles-area law firms. She is excited to be part of the IFLG team. In her spare time, Sunny enjoys spending time with her family and their dog, going to the beach, cooking, and being outdoors.

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Molly O'Brien

Fertility law attorney Molly O’Brien began working in the field of assisted reproduction technology (ART) in 2005, at an egg donation agency and a surrogacy agency where she became familiar with all aspects of in-vitro fertilization, egg donation and the financial aspects of surrogacy. Since becoming an attorney in 2011, Molly has drafted and negotiated surrogacy, egg donation, sperm donation embryo donation agreements for hundreds of her clients all over the world.