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Indiana appeals court extends parental rights to nonbiological mom

Indiana appeals court extends parental rights to nonbiological mom

Lesbian couples in Indiana who agree to conceive a child through artificial insemination are both the legal parents of any children born to them, the Indiana court of appeals has ruled. In its unanimous ruling, the court chided state lawmakers for being slow to deal with advances in reproductive technology and urged the general assembly to address the "current social reality" of unconventional families. "No [legitimate] reason exists to provide the children born to lesbian parents through the use of reproductive technology with less security and protection than that given to children born to heterosexual parents through artificial insemination," Judge Ezra H. Friedlander wrote in the ruling, issued Wednesday. "Our paramount concern should be with the effect of our laws on the reality of children's lives." The court's decision overturns a ruling by a Monroe circuit court judge who found that a Bloomington woman, Dawn King, had no legal standing with the girl born to her former partner, Stephanie Benham, because King was not a biological parent. Fran Quigley, executive director of the Indiana Civil Liberties Union, called the ruling "an important first step" in providing legal protection to parents and children in nontraditional families. Courtney Joslin, an attorney with the National Center for Lesbian Rights in San Francisco, said appellate courts in about a dozen states have issued similar rulings. The decision is likely to have an impact on future custody and child support cases as well as issues such as access to health insurance and inheritance through the nonbiological parent, said Joslin and Quigley. Previously in Indiana, the only way for same-sex partners to each attain legal parental status was through a "second-parent adoption"--a costly undertaking that grants parental rights to a nonbiological parent. However, some judges in Indiana have refused to allow second-parent adoptions for same-sex partners. This week's ruling does not address a challenge to Indiana's ban on same-sex marriage, which is pending before the state court of appeals. But Micah Clark, executive director of the American Family Association of Indiana, a group that promotes the traditional concept of family, said, "This essentially renders marriage and fathers meaningless." Attorney Sean C. Lemieux, who represented King, said the case is about the rights of parents and children and was based on a state supreme court ruling involving a married heterosexual couple who had had a child through artificial insemination. Lemieux said the court stopped short of setting a standard for what constitutes a nontraditional parenting partnership, something that still must be resolved. In King's case, he said, the existence of a partnership was clear. King and Benham shared their home, lives, and finances for nine years. Benham was impregnated with semen donated by King's brother, and King was present and participated in the child's birth. The little girl, now 5 years old, recognized both women as her mothers, calling King "Momma." After the pair split in January 2002, King paid child support and had regular visits with the child until July 2003, when Benham stopped accepting the support and denied King visitation. "I just want what any other parent wants--a relationship with my child," said King, 35.

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