New York Court Defends Rights of Same-Sex Parents
Advocates of parenting rights for same-sex couples found encouragement in two decisions by the New York Court of Appeals Tuesday.
In one case, a lesbian couple entered into a civil union in Vermont. After one of the women conceived a child through artificial insemination and gave birth, the couple broke up and her former partner sought visitation and other parental rights, The New York Times reports.
The seven-member court decided she should have those rights. In a 7-0 decision, the court ruled the plaintiff was a legal parent of the child because of the couple's recognized status under Vermont law.
In the other case, the court decided 4-3 that a lesbian who gave birth while in a committed -- but not legally recognized -- same-sex relationship could seek child support from her former partner through Family Court.
CASE NO. 1: DEFINING A 'PARENT'
The first case promises to have long-reaching implications for same-sex parents, Hayley Gorenberg, the deputy legal director of gay rights organization Lambda Legal, tells ParentDish.
Lambda Legal represented the plaintiff (identified as Debra H.) in the case involving the former Vermont couple.
Gorenberg tells ParentDish that Lambda Legal's ultimate goal is to protect the rights of same-sex couples -- regardless of legal status -- who intend to become parents or are acting as parents.
"This court decision is a step toward that goal," she says.
It is particularly significant, she adds, because it honors a legal status acquired in another state.
Her concern, Gorenberg tells ParentDish, is that there are same-sex parents who are not able to acquire such legal status. Nonetheless, she adds, the court decision is a definite and encouraging step in the right direction.
CASE NO. 2: SEEKING CHILD SUPPORT
The second case involved a partnership that was not a legally recognized union, but the couple was in a committed relationship when both partners agreed to have a child.
The court decided the biological mother of the child was therefore entitled to seek child support payments through the usual legal channels.
Lambda Legal was not involved in that case, but Gorenberg says the decisions in both cases complement each other and help advance the rights of same-sex and non-biological couples.
Both cases involved children who were born during the relationships, so the effect on nonbiological parents doesn't necessarily extend to stepparents.
In fact, that was the basis of the defendant's argument in the case involving the Vermont civil union.
New York State law says that parental rights do not extend to anyone who is not the biological or adoptive parent of a child. The law would therefore exclude stepparents who did not legally adopt their children.
Sherri L. Eisenpress, the defendant's lawyer, tells The Times the law would also exclude the plaintiff. What the court decided -- and what Gorenberg finds so significant -- is the plaintiff is a legal parent based on a union in another state.
New York legislators are free to tighten the state's definition of parents. For now, however, Gorenberg tells ParentDish, the news is good.
Related: Montana Upholds Same-Sex Partner's Parental Rights
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