ACLU Urges Court to Recognize Parental Rights of Lesbian Mother

News Release: 
Monday, November 2, 2009

The American Civil Liberties Union today urged the Washington Court of Appeals to recognize the parental rights of a lesbian mother who has separated from the biological mother of her daughter.  The ACLU’s Lesbian & Gay Rights Project and the ACLU of Washington jointly submitted a friend of the court brief in the case (In Re Parentage of LB).  The mother is being represented by the Northwest Women’s Law Center.

“Being a parent isn’t just about DNA.  Someone who loves, cares for, raises, and supports a child from birth can be just as important to that child as the person who gave birth,” said Leslie Cooper, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Lesbian & Gay Rights Project.  “The court should recognize the importance of these relationships so children aren’t shut off from the very people they need most.”

“As a matter of fairness, someone who has functioned as a child’s parent should have the same visitation rights as allowed in other similar parent-child relationships.  When couples split up, their children need the love and support of both parents, regardless of their parents’ sexual orientation,” said ACLU of Washington Staff Attorney Aaron Caplan.

Sue Ellen Carvin lived with another women in a marital-like relationship for 12 years.  During that time they decided to have a child together, with her partner becoming the biological mother.  Carvin stayed at home serving as L.B.’s primary caregiver, and their child called her “Mama.”  Carvin bathed, dressed, and fed her child, disciplined and consoled her, and provided financial support.  When the child was almost six years old, the couple separated.  Her ex-partner eventually cut off all contact between Carvin and the child.

In order to restore contact with the child she had raised from birth, Carvin filed a petition for a declaration of parentage or in the alternative for an order for third-party visitation.   A King County Superior Court judge held that because Carvin was not married to her partner and was not the child’s biological mother, she had no standing to seek a declaration of parentage.                                                                     

The ACLU urged the appeals court to allow Carvin a fair opportunity to prove that she is a parent of L.B.  State courts around the country have recognized the constitutional rights of “de facto” parents – adults who, with the consent of a biological parent, have taken on the role and responsibilities of a parent and have developed a bonded relationship with a child.   In this case, the trial court found that there is a “substantial relationship” between Carvin and her child, that she “acted as a parent in many ways for five years,” and that the termination of her visitation “harmed the child.”

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