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NH Supreme Court: Lesbian can claim parental rights
In the unanimous decision, the five-member court overturned the rulings in Derry Family Division court and ordered the judge to decide whether the non-biological parent — referred to in the court case as Susan B — had taken enough actions to qualify as the child’s parent.
In reaching its decision, the Supreme Court relied heavily on the state’s Surrogacy Law, which lays out the instances when a non-biological father can be deemed a parent. The law also encourages two parent-families.
“This decision clarifies what I have thought all along — our parentage statues are going to be read in a gender-neutral manner,” said Catherine Tucker, a Concord lawyer who specializes in reproductive law.
The case — In Re: Guardianship of Madelyn B — pitted the two one-time partners against each other. According to the ruling, the two took part in a dedication ceremony at a Unitarian-Universalist Church in 1998, 12 years before the state’s gay marriage law went into effect.
Susan paid child support and had regular visitation with Madelyn until 2013, when Melissa told her that Madelyn — then about 11 — no longer wanted to see her.
Derry Family Court Judge Lucinda Sadler terminated Susan’s guardianship, dismissed her parenting petition and denied her motion to intervene in the adoption. Those decisions were either overturned or remanded for a hearing.
“It’s now not an outlier at all,” said Joshua Gordon. “Whatever facts come out regarding the quality of Susan’s parenting can be told.”
In its decision, the justices said the laws should apply to Susan, even though it uses the specific terms father and husband. In the past, the Supreme Court has not bent gender specifications, Hicks acknowledged, noting an earlier ruling that denied a man claims that he sought as a widow.
“The policy goals of ensuring legitimacy and support would be thwarted if our interpretation of (the Surrogacy Law) failed to recognize that a child’s second parent under that statute can be a woman,” Hicks wrote.
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