Metro Weekly

Maryland’s highest court to hear parental rights law challenge

Case will test whether parental recognition statute applies equally to same-sex couples

Michael Conover with his son Jaxon (Photo courtesy of FreeState Legal).
Michael Conover with his son Jaxon (Photo courtesy of FreeState Legal).

On Tuesday, April 5, the Maryland Court of Appeals, the Free State’s highest court, will hear arguments in Conover v. Conover, a case that will test whether Maryland law will grant full recognition to families headed by LGBT people. While Maryland has, for decades, granted parental recognition and legal status to the heterosexual male spouses of women who were unmarried when they gave birth to a child, the courts have so far not recognized a similar right for same-sex partners.

Both the trial court and the Maryland Court of Special Appeals have refused to recognize the parental rights of Michael Conover, a transgender man who was in a committed same-sex relationship with Brittany Eckel (previously Conover) for nearly a decade. The two decided to have a child using artificial insemination, using an anonymous sperm donor, and began raising their son Jaxon together. The two were married in the District of Columbia soon afterward, but later separated. When Conover asked for parental visitation rights, Eckel claimed they had no children together, and the courts adopted an interpretation of a previous legal decision by the Court of Appeals — one known as Janice M. v. Margaret K. that predated same-sex marriage — to rule that Conover had no parental rights with regard to Jaxon.

On Tuesday, lawyers for Conover from FreeState Legal and Equality Maryland are expected to ask the Court of Appeals to reconsider its previous ruling in Janice M. v. Margaret K., in hopes of setting a new legal precedent that would allow the non-biological parent in a same-sex couple to be granted parental rights. Last month, more than 45 organizations and legal scholars signed onto amicus briefs filed with the court arguing in favor of recognizing Conover as his son’s legal parent and thereby allowing him visitation and custody rights. Following Tuesday’s arguments, the court is expected to issue a decision by August of this year. 

“We’re looking forward to making our case to the Court of Appeals that it needs to revisit our state’s parentage law in the era of marriage equality and put all Maryland families, whether headed by same-sex or opposite-sex couples, on an equal footing,” Jer Welter, the deputy director and managing attorney for FreeState Legal and Equality Maryland, said in a statement.

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