In a ruling that’s setting a new precedent and giving hope to gay families for equal treatment under the law, a separating lesbian couple in Florida has been granted equal parental rights of their eight-year-old child.
This wasn’t always the case for the couple, who actually separated when their baby was two. A circuit judge in Brevard County, Florida originally ruled in accordance with Florida law that the woman who had physically given birth to the child was the legal mother, although he wrote that it “broke his heart” to say so. In an appeal to that ruling, though, it was decided that “state law has not kept up with the times.” The case is unique in that both women are biological parents — one partner donated eggs, which were carried to term by the other. Sperm was donated anonymously, and the donor waived all rights. After their split, the partner who was originally granted full parental rights took their child and disappeared; the other mom eventually tracked her down in Queensland, Australia. Now the 5th District Court of Appeals has decided that the mother who donated her eggs is also owed parental access and rights according to both Florida’s and the nation’s constitutions, making for a fairly landmark decision in a state that doesn’t necessarily have a stellar track record on rights for gay families. (Although the state’s ban on adoption for same-sex families is now over.)
It’s clear from the statements made by the court that this ruling was in large part because of the fact that both parents had a biological link to their child, which isn’t the case most of the time. But regardless of how unique this family’s situation was, this decision is still being hailed as having big implications for same-sex families everywhere.
Camilla Taylor, a family lawyer with LAMBDA Legal Defense and Educational Fund, a nonprofit group that works on behalf of gays and lesbians, praised the ruling. “I think it’s clear the court reached the correct result, and courts are moving toward greater protections for families that involve either varying kinds of biological connections to their children or who have no biological connection but have functioned as parents in a child’s life,” she said.
Right now, the question the courts have actually responded to is, as the LA Times puts it, “Does a woman in a lesbian relationship who gives her egg to her partner have no legal rights to the child it produces?” The answer appears to be yes, although that doesn’t necessarily legally address the situation of lesbian mothers who don’t have biological ties to their children. But Nancy Polikoff of American University told the LA Times that “any ruling that supports the right of a same-sex couple … is important for its willingness to recognize that these families exist,” and she’s right. Combined with the fact that DOMA will probably be repealed in our lifetimes, it bodes well for our right to love each other sort of like straight people do — with the knowledge that everything might go irreparably wrong and our lives might fall apart completely, but we have at least some legal protections and safeguards for putting them back together. Or in this case, that even when it feels like our families are breaking into a million pieces, we’re able to keep them together where it counts. Part of having your relationships and your family recognized by the world at large is being able to rely on the same systems that the rest of the world does, even if your relationship ends; it’s the right to have things still be sort of okay when they’re not okay. Conservative pundits are always concerned, especially when it comes to gay marriage, about a child’s being able to grow up with “two loving parents” — with rulings like this, we get closer to a world where every child has that option.