Unanimous Ruling Protects Best Interest of Children
BOSTON, Massachusetts — In an important decision issued today, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled unanimously that Massachusetts must recognize other states’ parallel spousal statuses for same-sex couples, such as California registered domestic partnerships. Under the ruling, both spouses are the legal parents to children born into such unions.
The decision, written by Chief Justice Roderick Ireland, states, “Under Massachusetts law, children born into a legal spousal relationship are presumed to be the children of both spouses.” Moreover, “any child born as a result of artificial insemination with spousal consent is considered to be the child of the consenting spouse.”
“Because the parties to California RDPs [Registered Domestic Partnerships] have rights and responsibilities identical to those of marriage,” it is proper to treat “the parties’ RDP as equivalent to marriage in the Commonwealth.”
“We’re pleased that the Court agreed with our argument that Massachusetts should respect parallel spousal statuses like registered domestic partnerships, which provide all of the state-based protections for same-sex spouses, except for the name ‘marriage,’” said Senior Staff Attorney Vickie Henry of Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD).
“The parties met, fell in love, committed themselves to each other legally, and started a family,” said Henry. “Recognizing the legal status advances Massachusetts’ commitment to equality and honors the intentions of the parties. Most critically, recognition protects the children, securing their legal relationship to the two parents they have known.”
The ruling stems from the case A.E.H. v. M.R. GLAD represented A.E.H. in the appeal.
A.E.H. entered into a registered domestic partnership with M.R. in California – a state that grants all the protections of marriage, though not the name, to registered couples. A.E.H. and M.R. agreed to conceive and co-parent children together. The couple later moved from California to Massachusetts when M.R. was pregnant with their elder child. After the child was born, M.R. and A.E.H. shared parenting joys and responsibilities, and A.E.H. continued to support M.R. as she worked to complete a medical degree. They were welcomed by the community and held themselves out as they family they were.
A.E.H. conceived their second child, and during the pregnancy, M.R. took their older child to Oregon under false pretenses and severed all contact between the child and A.E.H. After trial, a Massachusetts Probate and Family Court appropriately recognized both women as legal parents to both children and granted primary physical custody of both children to A.E.H.
M.R. appealed the ruling, arguing that Massachusetts should not recognize their California domestic partnership alleging that such partnerships constitute illegal discrimination under our state constitution. M.R. asserted she was the only legal parent to the older child and A.E.H. was the only legal parent to the younger child and thus M.R. should retain sole custody of the older child and have no parental responsibility to the younger child.
“I am relieved that the Court recognized our family,” said A.E.H. “I wish we had not had to go through this ordeal but I hope it helps others. Our children are thriving and that has been, and will continue to be, my focus.”
Former GLAD Senior Staff Attorney Karen Loewy argued the case before the Court on May 8. Patience Crozier of Kauffman Crozier LLP tried the case and served as co-counsel on appeal.
The case is another unfortunate illustration of the way in which an estranged same-sex parent sometimes attempts to exploit the lack of uniform legal protections – or the lack of any legal protections at all – to gain the upper hand in custody proceedings. Seeking to stem this tide, GLAD and other LGBT organizations collaborated on Protecting Families: Standards for LGBT Families, a set of guidelines urging parents to put their children’s needs first and to honor the agreements they make with partners for the good of their children. Read the standards and pledge to uphold them at www.glad.org/protecting-families.
You can read the decision on GLAD’s website.
Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders is New England ’s leading legal organization dedicated to ending discrimination based on sexual orientation, HIV status, and gender identity and expression.
Kauffman Crozier LLP is a law firm based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, that focuses on all areas of family law for traditional and non-traditional families.