Court: Same-Sex Couples Must Provide Child Support

California's Supreme Court rules that unmarried, same-sex couples are lawful parents and must provide for their children if they break up. The court ruled that if both same-sex partners intended to parent a child conceived by artificial insemination, then both partners have an equal right to child custody and child support, even if one partner has no genetic link.

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Here in California, the state Supreme Court has set a precedent for unmarried same-sex couples who are parents. The court says that when gay couples break up, they have the same rights and responsibilities as heterosexual parents. NPR's Richard Gonzales spoke to some of the people involved in the case.

RICHARD GONZALES reporting:

A seven-year-old boy known as Ry bounces on his mother's knee as his twin sister sits nearby. Born with a congenital heart defect, Ry makes soothing noises with his mouth as his mother, known in court documents only as Emily B., talks about her estranged relationship with a former partner, known as Elisa B.

In the late '90s, the two women planned to raise a family together. They were artificially inseminated by the same donor so that their children would be genetically related. Elisa gave birth to a son; Emily had the twins.

Ms. EMILY B.: When one goes to the lengths to select sperm donors and inseminate each other and go to childbirth classes together and hyphenate names and breast-feed each other's children, I never envisioned that we would break up.

GONZALES: When the breakup came, Elisa, who had been the family bread winner, departed with her biological son. That left Emily, a stay-at-home mom, with her twins, one disabled with no visible means of support.

Ms. B.: I think there have been so many curves to my personal parenthood, I didn't think I'd be carrying twins. I didn't think I'd have a child with Down syndrome with profound medical issues. I didn't think that I would lose my home, my economic standing. It was if we were just sort of cast out to sea.

GONZALES: Emily and her children went on public assistance. Then, officials from El Dorado County, backed by the state of California, demanded support payments from Elisa, arguing that she was a second parent of the twins. But her attorney, Shelly Hanke, told the state Supreme Court that Elisa isn't responsible for Emily's twins because she isn't their biological parent.

Ms. SHELLY HANKE (Elisa's Attorney): If the Legislature intended for same-sex partners and their progeny to be a family unit, then the Legislature would define it so it would not be up to this court to stretch the existing laws.

GONZALES: But the California Supreme Court rejected that argument and ruled that a woman who agrees to raise children with her lesbian partner takes them into her home and holds them out as her own has an obligation to support those children. The court already recognizes the parenthood of a man who holds out his partner's children as his own, even if they are not biologically his. Courtney Joslin, an attorney with the National Center for Lesbian Rights, says this is the first time a state high court has granted parental status to both members of same-sex couples who plan and raise a child together.

Ms. COURTNEY JOSLIN (National Center for Lesbian Rights): The bottom line is that the California Supreme Court held that children born to same-sex couples must be entitled to the same protections that other children are entitled to. What this means is that for these children, fortunately, they now have a means to protect their legal relationship with both of the people who brought them into the world and who have functioned as their parents.

GONZALES: The court reached the same conclusion in two other related cases involving estranged lesbian partners. In one case, the court recognized the parenthood of a woman who donated eggs to a partner that were fertilized and resulted in twins. In another case, the court said a biological mother must abide by a pre-birth agreement to share custody with her former partner.

Richard Gonzales, NPR News, San Francisco.

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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