By Sheila Burke, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The state Department of Health has agreed to let a Brentwood couple give their child the surname of their choice, bringing to an end a contentious legal battle that began last year.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the lawsuit on behalf of the parents, hailed the state’s decision as a victory for the rights of the couple.
“This is a free speech issue and parents should be able to name their children what they want to name their children,” said Tom Castelli, legal director for the ACLU of Tennessee.
The lawsuit against the state was dismissed Thursday and a birth certificate has been issued with the parents’ chosen surname, he said.
Dr. Carl Abramson and Kimberly Sarubbi sued in October after the state refused to allow the couple to give their third child the last name Sabr. The name is a combination of both their last names. Their two older children, who had been born in other states, were allowed to have the last name Sabr. But the state refused to put the name on their youngest child’s birth certificate, and instead listed the child’s surname as Abramson on the official birth record.
A state Attorney General’s opinion issued last year said Tennessee law does not allow the surname of a child listed on a birth certificate to contain only a portion of the father’s last name and a portion of the mother’s last name.
It’s not clear whether the state is interpreting the law differently and will now give Tennessee parents more leeway in deciding what last names they can give their children, or if this was just an isolated case where the government relented simply because officials wanted the lawsuit to go away.
A spokesman for Department of Health said he would ask officials to provide an answer.
Parents can legally get their child’s name changed, but it’s easier to have the preferred name on the birth certificate, Castelli said, so they don’t have to grow up and have to explain why they’ve been known by two different names.