Court overturns ‘outrageous’ ruling that stripped mother of parental rights because she’s a lesbian

Michigan court judge Melissa Cox initially ruled to have Matthews’ name removed from the birth certificate.

The Michigan Court of Appeals has overturned a decision to remove a lesbian mother’s name from her children’s birth certificates.

Lanesha Matthews and Kyresha LeFever had a custody battle for their twins, who were born before same-sex marriage was legalised nationwide in the United States.

The couple had their children using LaFever’s egg, fertilised using donor sperm, which Matthews then carried.

When the children were born both mothers’ names were listed on the birth certificates. However, the couple split in 2014 and in the custody battle, a Michigan judge ruled that Matthews’ name be removed from the birth certificates.

The case was brought to the Michigan Court of Appeals where two judges ruled that the law had been “misapplied”, designating Matthews as a legal parent.

The decision was published earlier this month and stipulated that Matthews and LeFever “agreed to create and parent a child together” and “a genetic connection to one’s child is unnecessary to establish maternity”.

Jay Kaplan, staff attorney for the ACLU of Michigan’s LGBT+ Project, told Pride Source: “The court was raising the question as to who is considered to be a legal parent.

“The family court judge decided that this relationship was like a surrogacy parenthood agreement. And the gestational mum [Matthews], because she wasn’t related by genetics, that she was not a natural parent.”

Calling the lower court’s decision “outrageous, Kaplan explained: “You have a mom who’s been co-parenting her children, has a relationship with her children for seven years, and the court’s saying, ‘Oh, no, sorry, you’re not a parent because you’re not biologically related to the child and, therefore, I’m going to strip you of your legal status as a parent.’ And the analysis of how she arrived at that result was pretty tortured.”

Kaplan explained the ramifications of the judges’ decision: “It’s a much larger burden for a third party to challenge the other parent’s custody arrangement.

“What was flawed about this in so many ways is that most state courts do not define a parent solely based on being genetically related. We have people who adopt children; we have heterosexual couples who use reproductive technology who might not be able to have children on their own.”

The court echoed Kaplan’s views, stating that under Michigan law a man is still considered to be a “legal parent” of a child his wife bears through reproductive technology if he consented to the procedure, and same-sex couples “should have precisely the same right”.

Despite the country-wide legalisation of same-sex marriage, LGBT+ couples can still face barriers to parenthood in Michigan.

In 2019, several faith-based adoption agencies sued the state argued that not being allowed to refuse LGBT+ people infringed on their rights. Later this year, one Catholic foster agency will go to the Supreme Court after the city of Philadelphia stopped working with them when it found out about its refusal to work with same-sex parents.