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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 7, 2016 - Volume 44 Issue 41
Massachusetts court OKs parental rights for nonbiological, nonadoptive same-sex parents
Section One
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Massachusetts court OKs parental rights for nonbiological, nonadoptive same-sex parents

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

In a breakthrough ruling, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled that nonbiological and nonadoptive parents may claim parental rights to children they raised with their same-sex partners.

The ruling came in the case of a once-partnered - but unmarried - Lesbian couple who are now separated.

Julie Gallagher and Karen Partanen were a couple for nearly 13 years. They met in Massachusetts and later moved to Florida.

While living in Massachusetts, they bought a home and decided to have children together. Gallagher was the biological mother of the couple's children, and her former partner, Partanen, helped raise them. The children are now 4 and 8.

The couple separated on hostile terms in 2013. Partanen wanted to be declared a full legal parent, but Gallagher wanted to prevent her from having any relationship with the children.

A Massachusetts family court judge dismissed Partanen's request, finding that she failed to meet the requirements for parental rights under state law because she and Gallagher were not married when the children were born, and Partanen is not a biological parent.

In overturning that ruling, the state's highest court found that Gays and Lesbians may establish themselves as a child's presumptive parent under state law, even without a biological relationship with the child.

'While the provisions [of the state paternity statute] at issue speak in gendered terms, they may be read, as discussed, in a gender-neutral manner, to apply where a child is 'born to [two people], is received into their joint home, and is held out by both as their own child,' Justice Barbara Lenk wrote for the court in the unanimous decision.

'The plain language of the provisions, then, may be construed to apply to same-sex couples, even though at least one member of the couple may well lack biological ties to the children.'

'This decision is a major victory for contemporary families, which are formed in so many different ways. It is especially a victory for the children in those families who should not be deprived of their parents because those parents are not married or used assisted reproduction,' said Mary L. Bonauto of GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders (GLAD), who represented Partanen before the court.

'I could not be happier,' Partanen said in a statement. 'All I've wanted is to give my children the sense of family, continuity, and permanency that come with my being their legal parent.'

Some 35 states confer parentage on spouses who consent to assisted reproductive technology, as Partanen did. Seven of those states and the District of Columbia give legal parentage to the person who consents to the procedure with the intent to parent the resulting child, without regard to marital status, according to fertility associations and attorneys who submitted written arguments supporting Partanen.

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