Mississippi Supreme Court – Photo: Bill Golladay, via Wikimedia.
On Wednesday, Lambda Legal, with the support of local lawyer Dianne Ellis, argued before the Mississippi Supreme Court on behalf of a lesbian mother, Chris Strickland, who was denied parental rights over the two sons she helped raise with her former wife, Kimberly Day.
Together, Strickland and Day adopted their first son, with Day being listed as the adoptive parent because the state of Mississippi would not recognize the couple’s 2009 marriage in Massachusetts. They then had a second son via artificial insemination using an anonymous sperm donor, and Day became pregnant and gave birth to that second son. The couple later divorced and Strickland tried to get the state to recognize her parental rights.
But in October 2016, a trial court refused to recognize Strickland’s parental rights, finding that the anonymous sperm donor’s parent rights trumped hers. Nonetheless, the court also ordered Strickland to continue paying child support and granted her limited visitation rights, even though it refused to acknowledge any legal connection to her two sons.
In oral arguments, Strickland’s legal team argued that the court should adhere to the precedent set by two Supreme Court cases recognizing the marital and parental rights of same-sex couples: Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized marriage equality, and Pavan v. Smith, which found that states have to list the non-biological parent in a same-sex relationship on their children’s birth certificates. Based on that precedent, the court should recognize marriage equality in all aspects of marriage, including parental rights.
“Supreme Court decisions, and the experience of scores of mothers and and children with deadbeat dads, show that biology alone does not make you a parent,” Lambda Legal Counsel Beth Littrell said in a statement. “The trial court’s ruling is an insult to thousands of Mississippi’s families with children who are not genetically tied to both parents.
“Whether you are married to the same sex or not, an anonymous sperm donor should never trump the parental rights of spouses, whether same- or different-sex, who plan for, provide for, care for, and love their children,” Littrell continued. “Marriage equality is the law of the land in Mississippi despite HB 1523 [Mississippi’s religious exemption law] or the lower court’s attempt to demean Chris and dismiss her rights as a parent simply because she was married to another woman.”
Lambda Legal has previously won similar court victories post-Obergefell in which the non-biological parent in a same-sex relationship must have their parental rights recognized, including cases in New York, North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Iowa.
“I’ve been there for my sons since the beginning, and I’ve earned the right to be a parent in every sense of the word,” Strickland said in a statement. “Our boys are the world to me, and they deserve the right to both of their parents. I promise to love and care for them for the rest of my life.”