Oklahoma Supreme Court expands custodial rights of non-biological parent in a same-sex relationship

Oklahoma Supreme Court expands custodial rights of non-biological parent in a same-sex relationship

Ramey, the plaintiff, is not a mere "third party" like a nanny, friend, or relative, as suggested by the district court. On the contrary, Ramey has been intimately involved in the conception, birth and parenting of their child, at the request and invitation of Sutton, the Court said while allowing the appeal of a non-biological parent in a Lesbian relationship.

Oklahoma Supreme Court has held that a non-biological parent in a same-sex relationships have custodial and visitation rights. The Court said that it recognizes those unmarried same sex couples who, even before the same-sex marriage was legalized in the state, entered into committed relationships.

Background

In this case, same sex couple planned to have a child and co-parent. Upon the termination of their relationship and following almost ten years of co-parenting, the biological mother denied plaintiff's status as a parent and sought to end all interaction between plaintiff and child.  The District court ruled in favour of Biological mother and the non-biological parent appealed to Supreme Court of Oklahoma.

Issues

The question before the Supreme Court was



  • whether a non-biological parent lacked standing because the same sex couple had not married and had no written parenting agreement;
  • whether a biological mother has the right as a parent to legally erase an almost ten year parental relationship that she voluntarily created and fostered with her same sex partner


Rights of non-biological parent cannot be deprived citing failure to marry

The court observed that Sutton and Ramey's 8 ½ year relationship ended about two years before the same sex marriage was legalized in the state and the then law in the state deprived them from exercising their fundamental right and liberty to marry as guaranteed by our United States ConstitutionThe couple's failure to marry cannot now be used as a means to further deprive the non-biological parent, who has acted in loco parentis, of a best interests of the child hearing, the Court said.

Not a mere Third Party

The Court observed that Ramey, the plaintiff, is not a mere "third party" like a nanny, friend, or relative, as suggested by the district court. On the contrary, the Court said that she has been intimately involved in the conception, birth and parenting of their child, at the request and invitation of Sutton.  Ramey has stood in the most sacred role as parent to their child and always been referred to as "Mom" by their child. The community, school, medical providers and extended family have all known Ramey as the "other parent," all with the knowledge and mutual agreement of Sutton, the Court said. The Court also noted that, at the time of the conception of their child, Ramey and Sutton, as competent adults, entered into an intentional intimate relationship and made a conscious decision to have a child and co-parent as a family.

Conclusion

The Court concluded that it recognizes those unmarried same sex couples who, even before same-sex marriage was legalized in the state, entered into committed relationships, engaged in family planning with the intent to parent jointly and then shared in those responsibilities after the child was born. Public policy dictates that the district court consider the best interests of the child and extend standing to the non-biological parent to pursue hearings on custody and visitation, the Court held.

Read the Judgment here.