A Court Ruled That an Anonymous Sperm Donor Has Parental Rights, but This Lesbian Mom Doesn't. Lambda Legal Is Appealing.

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June 1, 2017

Today, Lambda Legal and local counsel Dianne Ellis filed an appeal in the Mississippi Supreme Court on behalf of Christina Strickland, a non-biological lesbian mother denied legal parentage to children she and her now ex-wife planned for and raised together.

“Our sons have two mothers and they deserve the right to a legal relationship with both of their parents,” said Chris Strickland. “These two precious boys are the world to me. I’m going to keep fighting to make good on my promise to love and care for them for the rest of my life.”

“The court carved out an exception to the rule that a child born to a married couple is the legal child of both spouses, ruling that children born as a result of assisted reproduction are the children of the mother and the anonymous sperm donor," said Beth Littrell, Lambda Legal Counsel. "The lower court’s decision is demeaning and destabilizing, marking Chris and her children as unworthy of the usual protections married families rely on when adult relationships fail.”

“That the court considers an unknowable donor who provided sperm to a fertililty clinic more of a parent than the person who takes care of the child when he is sick or helps him with his homework is a slap in the face to thousands of Mississippi families,” Littrell added.

Chris Strickland and her former spouse Kimberly Strickland (now Kimberly Day) began dating in 1999. They decided to start a family together despite Mississippi’s ban on marriage and adoption by same-sex couples.

Their first son joined their family in 2006. Because of the adoption ban, they decided that Kim would be the parent to adopt.

The couple married in Massachusetts in 2009 and then began planning to expand their family, this time using reproductive technology. They agreed that Kim would try to get pregnant first. Together they chose a fertility clinic and the anonymous sperm donor. In 2010, Kim became pregnant. When their second son was born in 2011, Chris was the first to hold him. Because the state did not recognize their marriage, only Kim was listed on the birth certificate, but the baby boy was given Chris’ last name. Both Chris and Kim are named as his parents on his birth announcement.

Chris and Kim raised their two children together, and for the first year of his life, Chris was the baby’s primary caretaker. The boys call Kim ‘mom’ and they call Chris ‘mama.’ When the couple’s relationship ended in 2013, Chris continued to parent their boys, visiting with and providing support for both children until Kim abruptly decided to cut all contact in August 2015, the same month that Kim married another spouse and Chris filed for divorce.

In May, 2016, the court ruled Kim’s second marriage void. In the final judgment of divorce, entered October 18, 2016, the court ruled that the anonymous sperm donor’s “rights” as a parent displaced the parental rights of the spouse. Finding that Chris was not a parent to either child, the court nonetheless ordered her to pay child support and awarded her visitation finding she was a person acting “in loco parentis.”

Lambda Legal filed an appeal today in the Mississippi Supreme Court arguing that the trial court discriminated against a child based on the circumstances of his birth and contrary to his best interests and violated the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution by ignoring the familial relationship between Chris and her sons. By denying Chris’ status as the full legal parent of the child born to a married couple, the Court has marked Chris and her child—and all children born to married parents as a result of assisted reproduction—as inferior and unworthy of the usual parenting protections that come with marriage.

Last year, Lambda Legal won a landmark victory in New York striking down a 25 year old court ruling that preventing non-biological parents from seeking custody of their children. Lambda Legal has been successful in similar cases in North Carolina, Wisconsin and Iowa