Mass. High Court Rules In Favor Of Non-Biological Parental Rights

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In Massachusetts, both members of an unmarried couple can now be considered the parents of their children, even though only one is the biological parent.

That's the unanimous decision of the state's highest court.

The case involves two women who lived together in Florida. They were not married but in a relationship for over 10 years and decided to have two children together. Only one of the women is the biological mother, but they raised the children together. They moved to Massachusetts, and they separated.

"They were raising the children together in their joint home, and formally and informally were communicating to medical providers, to family members, to everyone that they were the parents of these children," said Mary Bonauto, civil rights project director for the Boston-based GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders.

Bonauto represents Karen Partanen, of Burlington, the woman who was not the biological mother in the case and who filed a claim to be declared a parent of the children.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled that Partanen can be presumed to be a parent.

Bonauto said the decision applies to all unmarried parents, not just same-sex couples.

"And a child can be born to two men, two women, to an unmarried heterosexual couple, to a married couple," Bonauto said.

"The decision is that my children have two parents," Partanen said in an interview. "They have me as Mommy and they have Julie as Mama."

Julie is Julie Gallagher. She's represented by attorney Jennifer Lamanna.

"This is not a determination that Karen Partanen is a legal parent," Lamanna said. "It's a determination, however, that there's a class of people now, if they can establish certain facts, the door to establishing legal parentage is open to them now."

Those facts could include whether the parents were living together, whether they were jointly raising the children, and how they described their relationship with the children to others.

Courts in Maryland and New York have made similar rulings recently.

"This decision, in the long run, points to the severance of parentage from biological obsession, that is, whether the two people are two men or two women or a man and woman really shouldn't matter in terms of who gets to at least make a case to a court that it's in the best interests of the child that that person have parental rights," said Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe.

For now, the mothers in the case must decide whether to work out an arrangement to jointly raise their children, or whether the biological mother will challenge her ex's parental claims.

This segment aired on October 4, 2016.

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Fred Thys Reporter
Fred Thys reported on politics and higher education for WBUR.



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