One more giant step towards equal rights for same-sex couples as Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court just ruled that unmarried same-sex couples are entitled to the same parental rights as heterosexual couples. Regardless of gender, if you’re raising a child together, why shouldn’t you have the same parental rights as every other parent?
The case stems from a same-sex couple, Karen Partanen and Julie Gallagher, who were in a committed relationship and raising two children. The couple used in vitro fertilization in order for Gallagher to give birth. The couple publicly held themselves out as the parents of the two children, as well as jointly raised the children up until the couple’s separation. After the separation, since she isn’t the biological mother of the children, Partanen sought to establish parentage in order to obtain legal rights—like visitation and shared custody.
The Age-Old Tradition of 1 Man and 1 Woman as Parents
Massachusetts’ statute only allows a man to be presumed the father of a child born out of wedlock if the man takes the child (jointly with the mother) into their home and openly holds that child out as his own. Since the statute obviously presumes parentage from the biological mother, Partanen was left with no parental claim simply because she’s of the same sex as the biological mother.
As a result, a probate judge dismissed Partanen’s complaint. This meant, even though Partanen had been raising these children since each of their births as her own, she couldn’t claim parentage and gain any parental or custody rights. Partanen, understandably, appealed the decision and the Massachusetts Supreme Court took notice.
Can a person establish themselves as a presumptive parent in the absence of a biological relationship with a child? This was the question before the court. Most of the facts of the case were undisputed, that both partners played an important role in raising the children, which no doubt effected the Court’s decision.
If You’re 100% Involved, You’re a Parent
The couple was in a committed relationship, moved out of state together, bought a home together, and ultimately decided to start a family together. It was undisputed that the couple intended to both be the parents of any children that resulted out of the relationship. Even though unsuccessful, Partanen was the first partner to undergo in vitro fertilization. It was only after that point that Gallagher went through the same treatment and ultimately ended up giving birth on two separate occasions.
Although Partanen never adopted the children, she was fully committed and 100% present in their upbringing. The couple did all the normal day-to-day activities of raising children equally, including making important decisions about the children’s’ upbringing.
The Court found that although the statute spoke in specific gender terms, the same concept could be interpreted in a gender-neutral manner. This meant that because Partanen brought the children into her home and held them out as her own. It doesn’t matter that she is not a man as the plain language of the statute reads.
To push the point home further, the state had already established that a man could establish paternity for a variety of reasons other than biology. More specifically, the Court argued that the purpose of the statute, which was clearly defined, was to provide all “children born to parents who are not married to each other…the same rights and protections of the laws as all other children.”
Seems pretty simple, right?
Many Will Easily Follow in Massachusetts’ Footsteps, While Others Will Fight Against It
With all the positive decisions that have been made in favor of same-sex couples lately, there’s been battles to halt the progress in its tracks. Just this month, an Alabama Supreme Court Justice was removed from the bench for issuing an order preventing magistrate judges of that state from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, despite the federal decision in Obergefell. In North Carolina, two different magistrate judges filed claims that their rights had been violated by administrative memos received that said they could be fired if they refused to perform same-sex marriages in accordance with the law.
There will undoubtedly be criticism of the decision to give same-sex partners parental rights, but the general consensus seems to be in favor of same-sex couples and it only seems like the next logical step after Obergefell to give same-sex couples the same parental rights as heterosexual couples.