Michigan appeals court backs lesbian parent as co-mother
A Michigan court of appeals has overturned a ruling by a lower court to remove the name of a lesbian parent from the birth certificates of the children she gave birth to physically.
The case involves Lanesha Matthews and Kyresha LeFever, a Michigan couple who were together from 2011 to 2014 and had decided to start a family before marriage equality became legal.
Court ruling on a Michigan lesbian parent
The couple used LeFever’s eggs and donor sperm while Matthews carried and delivered twins, with both women named on the birth certificates. The couple later split up.
During the custody battle over the children, the lower court ruled that Matthews wasn’t a parent because she didn’t provide DNA for them and she wasn’t married to LeFever.
Family court judge Melissa Cox said that the couple had a “surrogacy” agreement and Matthews was a “third party” to her children and not a “natural parent.”
At first Cox gave Matthews visitation rights, but she later ordered Matthews removed from the children’s birth certificates.
Matthews argued during her appeal that the ruling violated her constitutional rights.
The Michigan Court of Appeals composed of judges Elizabeth Gleicher, Michael J. Riordan, and Kirsten Frank Kelly then overturned Cox’s decision, saying that both women “agreed to create and parent a child together.”
The appeals court sends custody case back down
The majority opinion said that the lower court’s ruling “erred” in the application of state law in the matter. However, they said it wasn’t grounds to nullify the ruling altogether.
This was because they also said Matthew’s legal arguments used state surrogacy law during the hearings. As such, they remanded the case back to the family court circuit.
There, a new custody ruling could be issued that still recognizes Matthew’s parental rights.
The appeals court said that even if Michigan’s Surrogate Parenting Act (SPA) applies, the “defendant remains a ‘natural parent’.”
However, they also said that “the trial court’s erroneous conclusion that the SPA applies does not alter the outcome of the case.”
Likewise, the majority decided they “need not address” the issue raised by Matthews over her constitutional rights.
A separate opinion on a lesbian parent
While Gleicher concurred with the majority opinion, she also gave a separate opinion addressing the constitutional questions.
Gleicher said: “A woman who gives birth to a child is that child’s natural mother under the common law, and there is no reason to look elsewhere for meaning.”
She said that “this case involves children born to lesbian women who were legally prohibited from marrying at the time of their conception.”
She pointed out that “under the common law, an unmarried woman who gave birth was always considered the mother and had no need to legally establish her custodial rights.”
“In my view, the constitutional issues presented are weighty and merit consideration, particularly because they may become relevant on remand and in similar cases,” judge said.
Because this issue could happen again, especially to women in a same-sex marriage, she expressed concern that this matter “remains unaddressed” in the majority ruling.