Once upon a time the problems faced by lesbian mothers in the US were centered around combining those two roles–being a lesbian and being a mother. Women who were unquestionably legal mothers lost custody of their children because they were lesbians.
But times have, for the most part, changed. While no doubt some women still lose custody battles because they are lesbians, that is far less common and, when it does occur, courts typically invoke reasoning that has nothing to do with sexuality. This suggests that judges realize that whatever might drive their decisions in fact it is no longer acceptable to simply rely on the mother’s status as a lesbian.
Legal issues for lesbian mothers now focus on women raising children together in two-parent lesbian families. Continue reading
I wanted to pick up on a terminology thread I started a little while back. You might want to go read it or skim it or remind yourself of it. The basic idea is that the term “parent” is often accompanied by a variety of modifiers and understanding the different modifiers and how they relate to each other is important to the conversation here.
Remember the core purpose of this blog: I’m concerned about how we define legal parent. I take it as a given that the category of “legal parent” exists. A legal parent is the person who has all sorts of rights and obligations vis-a-vis the child. So, for instance, who decides whether a child is raised with or without religious training? The legal parent or parents. Who decides on what sorts of non-emergency medical care will be provided? The legal parent or parents. Who decides where the child will live and go to school? The legal parent or parents. It’s possible to imagine a world without legal parents–perhaps one where some state bureaucracy dictates these choices for the child–but that’s not my task here.
So then the question is who gets recognized as a legal parent? Continue reading
There’s a new case from the New Mexico Supreme Court that gives me an opportunity to revisit a topic I’ve written quite a bit about before, though it has been a while since I’ve written about an intra-lesbian dispute over parentage. This is one of those cases that fall into a regrettably common pattern, though as is always the case, there are a few specific twists. I’m happy to say that this is also a case where I think the court ultimately got it right.
Bani Chatterjee and Taya King were a lesbian couple. During their relationship King adopted a child from Russia. Though legally King alone adopted the child, the adoption was in reality a joint project of the women who wanted to raise a child together. (I’m sure the women would not have been allowed to adopt jointly in Russia, so it pretty much had to be one or the other of them. I do not know whether NM law permits second-parent adoption and, given the reasoning of the court, it doesn’t matter.)
King and Chatterjee lived together and co-parented for a number of years before their relationship deteriorated. At that point, King moved to Colorado and tried to prevent Chatterjee from having any contact with the child. Continue reading
What better way to bring summer to a close than with a sequel? Works for Hollywood. A long time ago I wrote the first post with this title and I’ve written about nature at other times, too. But the idea of a natural order of things plays such a strong role in this area that I think it is worth revisiting.
Here’s what I think is at work: It seems to me that for many people there is an assumption that there is a natural order to things that sets a default. The default requires no justification–it just is that way. However, any change from the default must be justified. In particular, what you see here a lot is the argument that the people who contribute DNA to the creation of a child are “naturally” the child’s parent. Thus, there’s no need to explain why this is a good system to adopt. However, any change from that–recognizing people who do not have DNA links–must be justified. Continue reading
As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I was heading off to a meeting where we talked about surrogacy. This meeting and then the comments on yesterday’s post (which you might wish to go and read) have put me in the mood to continue musing about the topic at least a bit longer. Some of this really is drawn from responses to comments, but I figured I’d try to draw it all together a bit more neatly here.
First, it is worth remembering that the law governing parentage has been evolving over a very long time. But to be clear, it isn’t law in the same sense that the laws of nature are law. Law about parentage is made by people and it has varied to suit historical and cultural needs.
I think this point often escapes notice and it has been controversial when I’ve raised it before. It’s easy to think of parentage is a sort of natural law–a man and a woman engage in intercourse, the woman becomes pregnant and in due time a child is born and the man and the woman are the parents. Continue reading
I’m putting the discussion of issues around conception with third-party gametes aside for the moment. I’ll come back to it shortly, as I do have several additional things to say, but I wanted to return to a discussion of surrogacy. You can look at the tags to find earlier posts on the topic–there are a lot.
I should start by saying what I mean by surrogacy. I mean a circumstance where a woman agrees to become pregnant and then give the baby to another person or a couple once it is born. There are several variations on this practice, but I won’t review those right now.
The hardest cases in surrogacy are the cases where someone changes their mind in mid-stream. If everyone is on the same page at the beginning and everyone follows through as agreed it all runs smoothly. Here’s a case that illustrates the sorts of problems that arise when people do change their minds. It’s from Ohio. Continue reading
There’s a recent case from North Dakota that illustrates some important points about the power of recognition as a legal parent. At the same time, it also represents a less-common approach to the rights of third-parties. Please note that it does not directly raise the issues about defining natural parents that I’ve been talking about, so I hope I don’t confuse things by discussing it now.
Some time in 2001 or 2002 Robin McAllister conceived a child with Michael Tharaldson. While she was pregnant she moved out of Tharaldson’s home. She met Mark McAllister and moved in with him. The child, EM, was born in 2002. Robin and Mark raised him together. They married in 2004 and had two children together before Robin left Mark in 2008. When she left she took EM with her but left the two younger children behind. Robin and EM moved in with another man, Jason Prosje.
Robin and Mark McAllister got divorced. They agreed on most things. Mark got primary custody of the two younger children. The one outstanding issue was the custody/visitation regarding EM. Mark wanted decision-making authority and primary residential responsiblity for EM. Robin wanted him to have no court-ordained role in the child’s life. Continue reading
This ties in to my last post, and you might want to start there. That post discussed a recent case from Michigan involving a custody dispute between lesbian mothers. The court there concluded that both women were natural parents of the child.
Now this seems rather startling, although if you check the tag “natural parent” for this blog, you’ll see that similar things have been tossed around in the past. But essentially I think I have failed to properly examine the idea of natural parentage. I want to do that here.
It’s very tempting to say that natural parents are parents by virtue of nature itself and that law has nothing to do with it. Indeed, that is what the name suggests. But before making that assumption, you have to think about what it means when you say someone is a natural parent–what follows from that? Continue reading
One of the many forms of parentage I’ve discussed here is “natural parentage.” That’s often paired with “adoptive parentage” in law. The common understanding of this, I think, is that there are two paths to parenthood–one by action of law (that would be adoption) and the other by action of nature. But here’s a story about a case that demonstrates that law creates natural parents as well as adoptive parents. (I cannot find a reliable link to an on-line version of the actual court opinion. Sorry about that.)
This is one of the string of intra-lesbian custody disputes where one lesbian mother asserts the other is a stranger to the children involved. You can find a bunch of them on my blog, I’m afraid, as it’s not as uncommon as I could wish.
Renee Harmon and Tammy Davis began a relationship some time in 1989. Continue reading
This article is from the Sunday New York Times Magazine that will appear April 4. It’s an extended discussion about recent findings about same-sex pairings in the animal world. It’s recurrent focus happens to be female-female pairs of albatross who appear to 1) mate for life and 2) manage to raise chicks.
I’ve written before about the ways in which people invoke nature when discussing parenthood. Indeed, some would argue that parent is first and foremost a natural category. What I mean is that parents are defined by nature and not by law or by cultural practice. I think this view lies behind the assertion that a genetic connection is what should define us as parents: “Natural parents” generally is understood to mean those with a genetic connection.
The article discusses the different ways in which what is natural can be used in discussions of political or cultural questions. Some will say that perhaps it is okay to be lesbian/gay because it is natural. (This is the flip side of the argument that lesbians and gay men should be condemned because they engage in unnatural acts or commit crimes against nature.) Continue reading