I lament the cases in which legal mothers (biological or adoptive) successfully erase legally unrecognized mothers from their children's lives. The courts that let them get away with this often pretend they are required to do so because the U.S. Constitution protects a parent's right to raise her children.
As my post earlier today indicated, no U.S. Supreme Court tells a state how to define "parent," and California got it exactly right by ruling that a woman who consents to her partner's insemination and then holds the child out as her own is a parent, and should have rights equal to those of the biological mother.
But the arguments about the constitutional rights of parents should not be dismissed, and they are crucially important for lesbian and gay parents. In fact, when I started working on these issues in the mid-1970's, lesbian mothers were at a very real risk of losing custody of their children to their own parents, or to other relatives, who argued that a child should not be raised by a lesbian mother. Perhaps the most highly publicized case of this nature happened in the mid-1990's, when Virginia mom Sharon Bottoms not only lost custody of her son to her mother but was denied any visits with the child in the presence of her partner. (The case was the subject of a made-for-TV movie).
Well a lesbian mother in Indiana won a case this week against her homophobic parents. (Thanks to Art Leonard for his blog post on the case.) The mother's parents objected to the mother's lesbianism and to her new partner's relationship with the child, and eventually the mother denied them all access to the child. This caused them to sue for court-ordered visitation. They were successful at trial, but the appeals court overturned that ruling.
The court found that "confrontations initiated by Grandparents created unnecessary conflict and stress within the family. While they are entitled to their opinions concerning Mother's relationship with [her partner], Grandparents' open hostility toward Mother created an unhealthy environment for [the child]."
And the appeals court ruled that the trial court was legally wrong because it failed to respect...the mother's constitutional right to raise her child!
Over the past 20 years, the biggest challenge in developing the legal basis for continuing the relationship between a child and a legally unrecognized parent has been acknowledging that parents do have constitutional rights and that these rights importantly protect gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender parents from the state and from third parties, including grandparents. I do not want those rights diluted. What I want is a definition of parent that accurately reflects the family that two women create when they have a child together...regardless of who gives birth to the child.