Two Lesbian Moms Awarded Parental Rights, Almost As If Both Are Actually Parents

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.)

VIA HOMORAZZI.COM

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.
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Rachel is Autostraddle's Senior Editor and the editor who presides over books as well as news and politics coverage. Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel currently lives in Michigan. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy."

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16 Comments

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    If biological ties were all it took my own childhood would have been much more convoluted and depressing! One absent bio-dad and a step-father who never filled out adoption papers. No one has ever claimed by bio-dad had any rights over my life.

    That rant out of the way good for Florida! And good for the ruling judge!

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    yeah, two loving parents. one who is so spiteful she takes the kid as far away as possible from the other mother. good thing that 6 years later – the other mother gets granted the rights owed to her by both, the country and her partner.

    it’s a sick world we live in. i hope other homogay (together or separated) couples will be granted these rights based on this precedent, by the state AND their partner.

    jesus christ.

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      I know of a situation with elements similar to this, where the fleeing partner was fleeing because the pursuing partner was a domestic abuser, and she was having real trouble getting the police to take her seriously about the abuse *because* they were a lesbian couple. When the violent partner started to do abusive things to the kids and not just her, and she couldn’t get help, she fled.

      NOT to say that has happened in this case above or anything, but I can thing of a scenario where it would be understandable to pack up my kids and run.

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    This is why equality is so important. No parent should be at the mercy of her partner/ex-partner for access to her own child. When we start families, we don’t envision that the person we love could ever keep us from our kids but people do all sorts of crazy things when they are hurt and/or angry. Children need to be protected from the drama of break-ups but both parents need to be protected too.

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    “Does a *man* in a *heterosexual* relationship who gives *his sperm* to *his* partner have no legal rights to the child it produces?” What a ridiculous question! I can’t believe they ever thought it was OK to give just the birth mother parental rights over this child. The other mother was clearly a part of the child’s life from before birth up to the separation, and not just a random egg-donor.

    And, sadly, if the child has not seen her other mum in 6 years, she is unlikely to recognise her or feel any connection with her anymore, and having to become a part of her life now (especially when her birth-mum doesn’t want her to) may be very stressful for her. Just tragic.

    And also, who really thinks it is best *for the child* to be deprived of a parent they have bonded with and who has always been there for them, regardless of whether or not there is a biological link? Assuming that there is no abuse in the situation, it must feel to the child as though one parent has died! Why would a court not support the right of the child to contact with both parents, regardless of biology, simply on the grounds that it is in the child’s best interests?

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