Lesbian Mother Can Seek Parental Rights

News Release: 
Friday, November 20, 2009

The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington welcomed today’s decision by the Washington Supreme Court to grant a lesbian mother the opportunity to seek parental rights with a child she helped raise with her former partner.

The Washington Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that Sue Ellen (Mian) Carvin can argue in court that she is a “de facto” parent to L.B., the child that she had with her former partner, Page Britain, the biological parent. In its decision, the court recognized that a person can be parent to a child even if she isn’t a biological or an adoptive parent.

The ACLU filed a friend-of the-court-brief supporting Carvin’s right to be recognized legally as parent of the child she cared for with Britain before the two separated. 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.

 “The court’s opinion recognizes that parenting is not just about biology or about legal recognition, but rather about the relationship between a parent and her child,” said Aaron Caplan, staff attorney at the ACLU-WA. “This ruling is also a boost to nontraditional families, because it recognizes that the sexual orientation of parents is irrelevant in decisions about parental rights.”

Carvin was represented by the Northwest Women’s Law Center.  Leslie Cooper of the ACLU Lesbian and Gays Rights Project and Aaron Caplan wrote the ACLU’s brief.

Carvin lived with Britain in a marital-like relationship for 12 years. During that time they decided to have a child together, with Britain 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. The case now goes back to Superior Court to determine whether Carvin qualifies as a de facto parent under the test set forth in today’s opinion.


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