Articles Posted in Parentage

Why Lesbian Co-Parents Still Live in Limbo

Although the parenting rights of people in same-sex couples have generally been on the rise—particularly in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges and the legalization nationwide of marriage by same-sex couples.  But a recent opinion from the Idaho Supreme Court, Doe v. Doe, is a reminder that the rights of lesbian co-parents remain in uncertain, particularly for couples who are not married. This case also illustrates the role the U.S. Constitution plays both in protecting parental rights and allocating them.

In the Idaho case, two women, known only as “Jane Doe” and “Jane Doe I” were in a non-marital, romantic relationship for four years before agreeing to start a family using an anonymous donor. Jane Doe I conceived and gave birth to a child, raised jointly with Jane Doe.  The court quickly relabels Jane Doe I as “Mother” and Jane Doe as “Partner,” presaging its legal conclusion that only one of these women—Mother—has rights to the child they jointly planned for and raised. According to the court, without the consent of “Mother,” “Partner” has no right to maintain a relationship with the child.

 

Split the Baby?

King Solomon of Israel was called upon, in 1 Kings 3:16-28 of the Hebrew Bible, to determine which of two women was the mother of an infant boy.  One woman’s newborn had died and the other woman’s newborn had lived, but both lay claim to the surviving infant.  In his great wisdom, King Solomon raised a sword and offered to split the baby in two, knowing that the child’s true mother would rather give up her child than let him be harmed.  The first woman agreed with the plan, but the second urged the king to “give her the living child, and in no wise slay it.”  Solomon had his answer.

Though courts do not raise swords or threaten to split babies in two, they are frequently called upon to determine questions of parentage, or who are a child’s legal parents.  A legal parent must support the child, but also has the constitutional right to determine almost every aspect of the child’s life. An adult who does not qualify as a legal parent can avoid financial obligations, but also can be shut out completely from the child’s life.  Legal parentage also determines many economic rights. Parentage law can thus make or break a family and deeply affect the life of a child.

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