Michigan's Top Court Rejects Lesbian Custody Suit

Michigan's Top Court Rejects Lesbian Custody Suit

Michigan's supreme court will not hear a case involving child custody for a lesbian who wanted to share parenting rights with her former partner for her daughter and twin sons.

Renee Harmon had been in a domestic partnership with Tammy Davis for 19 years, during which time Davis bore the couple three children. When Davis left Harmon in 2008, the two initially split some parental duties, but Harmon was eventually cut off by Davis, who refused to share custody with her former partner starting in September 2009. Harmon then sought custody through the courts.

A lower court ruling gave Harmon and her attorneys, Dana Nessel and Nicole Childers, some hope for the future of their case. Nessel said in November that trial court judge Kathleen McCarthy provided an exhaustive list of examples of state and federal cases where the role of a parent was not always fulfilled by an adoptive guardian or biological mother or father. However, after Davis filed an emergency appeal with the Michigan court of appeals, the court reversed McCarthy's decision, ordering Harmon's petition for custody be dismissed.

Harmon and her attorneys told The Advocate they felt confident about this round in court. Their request for a hearing was filed in October 2010 to a 4-3 Democrat-majority supreme court. However, the November elections flipped the court's makeup, Nessel said, making it highly improbably that their case would be heard. Indeed, as the court ruled on July 22, the case was rejected by the court along party lines, with three Democrats, justices Marilyn Kelly, Diane Hathaway, and Michael F. Cavanagh, dissenting.

"I find it very important that nationally, gays and lesbians seem to be going forwards," Harmon said Tuesday, "but in Michigan, we're going backwards when it comes to gay rights."

"This case cries out for a ruling by the state's highest court," Nessel said, echoing the dissent written by Justice Kelly.

The next step for Harmon would be pursuing the lawsuit in a federal court, a process that Nessel said could take years before a trial is heard.

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