Rich Vaughn, IFLG: Federal Court Rules Baby Born Via Surrogacy Abroad to Gay Dads is US Citizen

Federal Court Rules Gay Dads’ Baby Born Via Surrogacy Abroad Is U.S. Citizen

A federal court has ruled, once again, that the child of a legally married gay couple, born via surrogacy abroad, is a U.S. citizen and has been since her 2019 birth—refuting the Trump administration’s continuing policy of defining her and other similar surrogate births to LGBTQ parents as “out of wedlock.”

The convoluted policy is based on genetics. As reported by the Star Tribune, the case is one of several challenging the State Department’s policy of treating LGBTQ parents differently than heterosexual parents who travel to another country for surrogacy.

In a June 17 ruling, a federal judge in Maryland ordered the U.S. State Department to recognize Kessem Kiviti, who was born via surrogacy in Canada in February 2019, as a U.S. citizen since her birth and to issue her a U.S. passport. However, the decision did not extend to mandating changes in the State Department policy in regard to future cases.

The Kivitis Created Their Family Using Assisted Reproductive Technology

Kessem is the daughter of two gay dads: Roee Kiviti, who was born in Israel and moved to the United States with his  parents in 1982, at age 4; and Adiel Kiviti, born and raised in Israel, who moved to the U.S. in 2015 and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in January 2019. The couple were married in Santa Barbara, California, in October 2013.

Kessem is the couple’s second child. Their first, a son, was, like Kessem, conceived through assisted reproductive technology, using a Canadian gestational surrogate, a donated egg, and Roee’s sperm. Following his birth, in November 2016, a Canadian court found that Roee was the boy’s biological father and that the Kivitis, and not the surrogate, were his legal parents. His Canadian birth certificate showed Adiel and Roee as his parents. Back in the U.S. with their son, the Kivitis applied for and received in February 2017 a U.S. passport for the baby, with no questions asked by the State Department about his biological relationship to the fathers.

When the two dads added Kessem to their family, they again traveled to Canada for gestational surrogacy, using an anonymously donated egg. But this time there was one critical difference: Adiel’s sperm was used instead Roee’s. In February 2019, a Canadian court established Adiel’s biological relationship to Kessem and ordered that the Kivitis, and not the surrogate, were Kessem’s legal parents. Her Canadian birth certificate showed Adiel and Roee as her parents.

Back in the United States with their daughter, the dads applied for a U.S. passport for her. A day later, they got a call from State Department requesting additional information, including details about the surrogacy arrangement. Adiel Kiviti provided a copy of the Canadian court order establishing the Kivitis as Kessem’s parents. But with Adiel, who had lived only a few years in the United States, as her genetically related parent, Kessem’s application fell under a different set of rules, which have been interpreted by the Trump State Department in the most onerous way. Because Roee is not biologically related to Kessem, under the State Department’s definition, she is considered to have been born “out of wedlock.” Because her biological father, Adiel Kiviti, had not lived in the United States for a minimum five years prior to her birth, the State Department determined that Kessem was not a U.S. citizen and denied the passport application.

In September 2019, followed by an Amended Complaint in December 2019, the Kivitis filed suit in federal court, claiming in part that the State Department discriminated against them as a same-sex couple and that their Fifth Amendment rights to equal protection had been violated. The suit also asked for “a permanent injunction against the State Department treating the children of same-sex couples as born out of wedlock and thereby denying them U.S. citizenship at birth.”

In its June 17 ruling, however, the court pointed out that “where a child is born to two married fathers by way of a surrogate who was implanted with an egg from an anonymous donor that was fertilized by one of the father’s genetic material, the State Department does not consider that child to have been born in wedlock. According to the deposition testimony of Paul Peek, an official of the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs, two married men can never have a child that the State Department considers to have been born in wedlock. Instead, the children of such marriages are always deemed to have been born out of wedlock and must have their claims to citizenship at birth adjudicated through § 1409(a).”

While the ruling orders the State Department to recognize Kessem’s U.S. citizenship and to issue the U.S. passport, it does not grant the requested injunction to stop the agency from treating the children of married U.S. citizens who are LGBTQ as “out of wedlock.” In another similar case we have written extensively about, that of gay dads Elad and Andrew Dvash-Banks, currently pending appeal, the State Department determined that one of their twin sons born via surrogacy in Canada was a U.S. citizen, the other not a citizen—solely due to the genetics of the fathers. In that case, in order to apply for U.S. citizenship for their sons, the couple was forced to undergo genetic testing to determine which was biologically related to which twin. One boy, related to Andrew Dvash-Banks, a U.S. citizen, was granted citizenship; the other boy, related to Israeli citizen Elan Dvash-Banks, was denied citizenship. As we wrote at the time, “Two boys, born just a minute apart, from the same egg donor and surrogate, are viewed very differently by the U.S. government.”

The Dvash-Banks case has been wending its way through the courts for years. They were legally married in Canada in 2010, and their twin boys were born in 2016. In another case we have followed, Allison Blixt, a U.S. citizen, and her Italian wife, Stefania Zaccari, had two babies in London, England, where the moms also were legally married, according to a BBC report. Each woman conceived and gave birth using her own eggs and an anonymous sperm donor, with both moms’ names recorded on both babies’ birth certificates. When the family attempted to relocate to the United States, they were subjected to DNA testing. As in the Dvash-Banks case, the daughter who is genetically related to Blixt, the U.S. citizen, was granted citizenship; the daughter who is genetically related to Zaccari was denied citizenship.

As we wrote in 2018, the citizenship issue is not a new one for parents who have children via assisted reproduction abroad. The U.S. State Department’s long-standing policy is that “at least one biological parent must have been a U.S. citizen when the child was born” in order for a child to be automatically granted U.S. citizenship at birth.

In fact, during my tenure as its chair, the Assisted Reproduction Committee of the American Bar Association and the ABA Commission on Immigration produced a policy memo, urging the State Department to expand its interpretations of its Family Affairs Manual, which provides guidelines for family immigration and citizenship rights. In February 2017 the ABA ratified the resulting Resolution 113 (read more here).

… To this end, the Resolution recommends that State base its definition of child not on genetic and gestational relationship alone, but also on demonstrated “parental intent” to establish the necessary relationship to transmit or acquire U.S. citizenship. This approach is consistent not only with accepted canons of statutory interpretation, but also with interpretations of family law in many American and foreign jurisdictions confronting the parentage of children conceived through ART. Such a policy expansion by State would permit U.S. citizen parents to transmit U.S. citizenship to their children born abroad but conceived through assisted reproductive technologies when their parent-child relationship is legally recognized by the country of the child’s birth.

To date, the State Department has not implemented the changes recommended in the ABA Resolution. But although the State Department policy (that a child born in another country must have one parent who is a U.S. citizen in order for the child to be a U.S. citizen) applies to both LGBTQ parents and heterosexual parents, as we wrote last year, the Trump administration has put children of LGBTQ parents under additional scrutiny.

…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.

Today, as the department continues to define the children created via surrogacy with two married dads as born “out of wedlock,” the policy clearly does not comply with the Homeland Security guidance that married LGBTQ couples are entitled to the same citizenship and parentage rights as married heterosexual couples. Instead, by fighting in court, case by case, to deny U.S. citizenship to the children of LGBTQ parents born abroad, the State Department under the current administration guidance has been a willing participant in the Trump administration’s campaign to roll-back recently won LGBTQ rights.

So far, the courts have been a bright spot—from the recent Supreme Court decision protecting LGBTQ employees from being fired for their sexual orientation, to the series of federal court decisions that, like this one, defend the rights of married LGBTQ parents. One victory does not mean the end of Trump administration’s war on LGBTQ equality, but for those of us on the battleground it is reassuring to know that in the courts, at least for now, justice prevails.



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 moved to the United States in 2012 to attend Northeastern 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, received her paralegal certification from UCLA Extension, and obtained her second Master of Science degree in Legal Studies from Loyola Law School. Peiya relocated back to her hometown, Beijing, China in 2019 and works from IFLG’s Beijing office. 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 which he received in 2013, 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. Luis has worked for IFLG in both Los Angeles as well as San Francisco, and is currently based in Dallas, Texas. 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.”


Kim has over 30 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 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.

Phoebe Sadler

Fertility law attorney Phoebe Sadler has a background in family law and has been practicing exclusively in the area of assisted reproduction technology (ART) law since 2018.

Rubina Aslanyan

Rubina has an extensive background in the legal field as a paralegal in Family Law and has worked in surrogacy and assisted reproduction law since 2012. Her area of focus is in managing and assisting clients with surrogacy, egg donation, and parental establishment cases for many of IFLG’s domestic and international clients. During her spare time, Rubina enjoys spending time with her family and dog Bella, traveling and cooking.

Alexander Espinoza
Legal Assistant

Alexander joined IFLG as a legal assistant in 2019, where he manages surrogacy, egg donation and parental establishment cases. Alex is bilingual in English and Spanish and has been in the legal field for 23 years. Alex is excited to join the IFLG team and pursuing his will to help others in the reproductive law process. In his spare time he loves spending time with his family and friends, being outdoors, road trips, loves music and dancing.

Cara Stecker
Senior Paralegal

After receiving her paralegal certificate in 2005, Cara began working in assisted reproductive law. During the fifteen years Cara has worked in this field, she has gained a wide range of experience and knowledge that she uses to help better assist clients and those involved in the assisted reproductive journey. Cara’s primary roles involve managing parental establishment matters and coordination with IFLG’s Of Counsel attorney network, drafting contracts and parental establishment court documents and providing support to other team members. Cara finds great joy in being a small part of a team of caring people who help others achieve their dream of having a family. In her spare time, Cara enjoys spending time with her husband and three children, watching her children play the sports they love, and she enjoys, running, cycling and exploring the outdoors in the sun.

Stephanie Kimble

Stephanie received her BS in History and Political Thought from Concordia University Irvine in 2015 and her Paralegal Certificate from University of San Diego later that same year. She has been working as a Paralegal since 2016 in Family and Reproductive Law. She is excited to be part of International Fertility Law Group working on managing Surrogacy, Egg donation and Parental Establishment Cases.

Trish Pittman
Assistant Financial Coordinator

With more than 20 years of experience in the field of accounting, Trish joined the IFLG team in 2019 as Assistant Financial Coordinator. Her client-facing focus at IFLG is to assist with all client trust accounting. Trish is the mother of two daughters and enjoys spending time teaching and learning new things from them. In her free time, she loves long walks in the park and reading suspense and mystery novels.

Katie Deaquino
Senior Paralegal

Katie is a Senior Paralegal with IFLG and has dedicated over sixteen years to the areas of surrogacy and reproductive law. She received her Paralegal Certificate from Coastline Community College and has worked with some of the top law firms in the assisted reproduction community. Katie is also a commissioned Notary Public. With IFLG, Katie manages Surrogacy, Egg Donation, and Parental Establishment cases and provides support to other IFLG team members. Katie truly enjoys helping others build their families through assisted reproduction and is thankful she has had the rewarding experience of assisting IFLG clients. Katie often spends her free time with her Husband, four young children and her bulldog “Bella”.

Elsa Jimenez
Legal Assistant

Elsa joined IFLG as a Legal Assistant in 2019, bringing more than 35 years of experience working in the legal profession (concentrating in tort and litigation matters). At IFLG she assists surrogates with their surrogacy and parental matters. The oldest of five siblings, born and raised in East Los Angeles to Mexican immigrant parents, Elsa loves “seeing the beauty of families forming” through assisted reproductive technology. She and her husband Carlos have four children and one grandson. Elsa enjoys jazz and ’80s music, being outdoors in nature, collecting teacups and tea pots, and spending time with her close-knit family.