State Department revises its gender-neutral passport wording

Surprised by conservative criticism of redesigned application’s use of ‘parent’ in place of ‘mother’ and ‘father,’ Clinton intervenes with compromise.

A weekend dust-up pitting gay rights advocates against cultural conservatives prompted the State Department on Monday to recast a newly redesigned passport application form.

On Dec. 22, 2010, State's Bureau of Consular Affairs published what it assumed to be a routine announcement of a new forgery-resistant version of its Consular Report of Birth Abroad form, which verifies that a child born to American parents overseas is a U.S. citizen.

But an unobtrusive final paragraph of the announcement mentioned that the wording of applications -- for both the birth abroad form and the DS 11 form used by anyone applying for a U.S. passport -- would henceforth use the word "parent" instead of "mother" or "father."

"These improvements are being made to provide a gender-neutral description of a child's parents and in recognition of different types of families," the announcement said.

Gay rights groups applauded the change as a step away from discrimination against same-sex parents with U.S. citizenship who bear children abroad.

But the conservative Family Research Council blasted the move as a violation of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act and called on Congress to overturn the change.

After news reports on the move appeared on Jan. 8, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton intervened and altered the final wording to read "mother or parent 1" and "father or parent 2."

An official in the Bureau of Consular Affairs told Government Executive: "Secretary Clinton was aware of the importance of the change but not aware of the nitty-gritty details. Once she was made aware, she decided to revise the wording."

During Saturday's daily briefing, State officials said Clinton's thinking was related to a desire to avoid a fight with newly empowered Republican House members who might be considering cuts in spending on the department's foreign operations.

Paul Guequierre, deputy press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign, a Washington lesbian and gay rights advocacy group, said on Monday: "We applaud Secretary Clinton's modification of new State Department rules. . . . This change is an important step forward in recognizing that there is a range of family structures in our country, including families headed by same-sex couples."

Peter Sprigg, a senior fellow for policy studies at the Family Research Council, said: "We are certainly happy that the State Department recognizes the existence of motherhood and fatherhood. But they continue to try and promote a redefinition of marriage and the family, which is still a concern for us."