The Maryland Court of Appeals issued a ruling earlier this month that was a phenomenal legal victory for the LGBTQ community. The court recognized that individuals who helped raise children with their same-sex partners should have parental rights, despite having no biological ties to the child and not being an adoptive parent.
This landmark ruling could help countless gay parents who have been trapped in legal limbo after a breakup, with no legal standing to gain custody over the children they have helped raise. Likewise, this influential decision may have the potential to impact thousands of children in the state.
The court’s judgment is leading the way by recognizing these persons as “de facto” parents with parental rights. The Maryland Court of Appeals was given the opportunity to define new parameters of parentage for situations that didn’t fit within any traditional mold, and this judgment is a testament of the progress toward equality for the LGBTQ community within the state, with the hope of a domino effect across the nation.
Lou Chibbaro, Jr., of the Washington Blade reported, “The unanimous ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed by Washington County, Md., resident Michael Conover, who was denied visitation with a child he helped raise with his same-sex partner for the first two years of the child’s life. Following the couple’s separation, two lower courts ruled in favor of the ex-partner’s refusal to allow Conover to visit the child on grounds that he had no parental rights because he was neither the adoptive nor biological parent of the child.” He continued, “The Court of Appeals ruling on July 7 overruled the decisions by the lower courts and overturned its own 2008 decision that established the legal grounds for not recognizing people like Conover as a ‘de facto’ parent.”
This decision attempts to foster and support family unification. It also has the ability to help ensure that those who have raised and loved a child in the capacity of a parent are entitled to parentage rights following a breakup.
While the Court of Appeals made its decision, the case has automatically been remanded to the Circuit Court. The Circuit Court will determine if Conover should be granted visitation rights.
Conover’s attorney, Jer Welter, who is also the deputy director for Free State Justice said, “With the court’s decision today, Maryland family law now recognizes the lived reality of LGBTQ families. This decision strongly affirms that children’s relationships with their parents are entitled to legal protection – even if their parents are not parents by blood or adoption.”
According to reports, Welter’s client transitioned from female to male after the breakup with his partner, Brittany Eckel, but the court agreed to hear the case as a same-sex couples matter. For almost 10 years, the couple was in a committed relationship. During that timeframe, they decided to have a baby and the ladies selected an anonymous sperm donor. They wed a few months after Eckel gave birth to their son, Jaxon.
When the couple divorced, Conover was denied visitation. Conover was faced with the sobering reality that Jaxon was neither his biological son nor his adoptive child, and that he didn’t fit into any traditional definition of parent under the state’s laws.
“I haven’t seen my son in four years because the state of Maryland didn’t recognize me as a parent,” Conover said in a statement. “I am elated that the state’s highest court has ruled that people like me should have our relationships with our children legally protected.”
This ruling in Maryland will hopefully help remove the legal barriers to parentage that have plagued so many in the LGBTQ community — leaving no room for exclusion — so that those who deserve to be recognized as parents are acknowledged accordingly.