A lesbian mother in Arizona has won the right to be considered her child’s legal parent following a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court allowing a lower court ruling to stand.
The nation’s highest bench declined to hear an appeal to a September verdict from the Arizona Supreme Court involving McLaughlin v. McLaughlin, a same-sex custody dispute over visitation rights to a child conceived through artificial insemination. The state court claimed the 2015 SCOTUS ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges entitled same-sex couples to the same marriage rights as opposite-sex partners.
“It would be inconsistent with Obergefell to conclude that same-sex couples can legally marry but states can then deny them the same benefits of marriage afforded opposite-sex couples,” the Arizona Supreme Court claimed last year.
To date, three courts have ruled in favor of Suzan McLaughlinwhose wife, Kimberly, gave birth to their son in 2011 using an anonymous sperm donor. Although the two were married at the time the child was born, Kimberly asserted (via her lawyers) that her ex was not entitled to any form of custody following their subsequent divorce. Suzan and the boy aren’t biologically related.
But Suzan’s attorneys held that she is entitled to visitation under what’s known as “presumption of legal parentage.” Under the Arizona statute, the husband of a pregnant woman is legally granted the rights of fatherhood.
Because Obergefell was not the law of the land at the time the suit was originally filed, her lawyers claimed the law also applied to same-sex couples.
After favorable rulings from a trial court and the Arizona Court of Appeals, Arizona Supreme Court Justice Scott Bales wrote that the 2015 ruling resolved any disputes over the subject by entitling LGBTQ partners to marriage “on the same terms and conditions as opposite-sex couples.”
Legal counsel for Suzan McLaughin championed the Supreme Courtwhich did not state why it declined to hear the case, as is customfor refusing a challenge to that historic ruling. Attorney Claudia Work claimed her client is “over the moon.”
“Now that the last impediment is gone… we now are confident that we can go back in and settle this short of trial,” Work said in an interview with the Arizona Capitol Times.
LGBTQ advocacy groups also applauded Monday’s decision from SCOTUS.
Catherine Sakimura, family law director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, praised the courts for recognizing that the U.S. Constitution “requires states to provide the exact same rights to same-sex spouses and different-sex spouses.” These rights were also upheld in Pavan v. Smith, a 2017 case involving two same-sex parents who both wished to be listed on their child’s birth certificate.
“States across the country should take careful note of [the McLaughlin v. McLaughlin] decision,” Sakimura said in a statement. “Discrimination against married same-sex couples will not be tolerated.”
Advocates believe the Arizona Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling could prove pivotal not just in the arena of custody disputes. If same-sex couples must be treated “on the same terms and conditions as opposite-sex couples,” that determination could apply to hospital visitation, inheritance, or adoption and foster care rights.
Arizona law currently states that “preference should be given to a married man and a married woman” when determining placement for adoption, reports the Arizona Daily Star.
The McLaughlin v. McLaughlin case will head back to a lower family court to be adjudicated.
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