Thursday, June 21, 2012

Arguing For Respect of Parallel Spousal Statuses

As other states across the country continue to enact civil unions and registered domestic partnerships -- legal statuses for same-sex couples that fall short of full marriage equality -- the question is: what happens when a couple with a civil union or RDP moves to a marriage state like Massachusetts?

GLAD believes Massachusetts should recognize those legal relationships, a position that senior staff attorney Karen Loewy argued persuasively before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court on May 8, in the case A.E.H. v. M.R.

“The point of this case,” Karen explains, “is the respect due to parallel spousal statuses, like registered domestic partnerships or civil unions, which provide all of the state-based protections for spouses. Recognizing the status advances Massachusetts’ commitment to equality and honors the intentions of the parties who entered into the status. Most critically, recognition secures the legal status of children and the protections that come from having two legal parents.”

GLAD is representing A.E.H., who entered into a registered domestic partnership in California with M.R. in 2003. The couple agreed to conceive and co-parent children together, and they later moved from California to the east coast when M.R. was pregnant with their eldest child, J. J was born while the couple lived in Massachusetts, and M.R. and A.E.H. were equal co-parents, acting as a family in every way. A.E.H. conceived their second child, M, and during the pregnancy, M.R. took J to Oregon under false pretenses and severed all contact between J and our client. But the Massachusetts Probate and Family court appropriately recognized both women as legal parents to the children and granted primary physical custody of both children to A.E.H.

M.R. appealed the ruling, and continues to argue that Massachusetts should not recognize their California domestic partnership, and as such she should retain sole custody of the older child she birthed and have no parental responsibility for the younger child that A.E.H. birthed.

The case is another unfortunate illustration of the way in which estranged same-sex partners sometimes attempt to exploit the lack of uniform legal protections – or the lack of any legal protections at all – to gain the upper hand in relationship dissolution and/or custody proceedings. In an effort to stem this tide, GLAD and other LGBT organizations collaborated on Protecting Families: Standards for LGBT Families, a set of guidelines urging parents to play fair and to honor the agreements they make with partners for the good of their children.

Read the standards and pledge to uphold them at

We expect the SJC to issue its decision in late summer.

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