California Court of Appeal ruling stands; Lesbian mother’s parental rights upheld

(San Francisco, CA, February 22, 2010) — Today, the United States Supreme Court denied review in a custody dispute involving a non-biological lesbian mother whose former partner, the child’s biological mother, was seeking to strip her of any parental rights.

“I am so grateful that my relationship with my six-year-old daughter is legally protected,” said Charisma. “I love my daughter dearly, and I am relieved the courts have recognized that children born to same-sex couples deserve the emotional, financial, and physical support of both of their parents, regardless of the parents’ gender or sexual orientation.”

Charisma R. and Kristina S. were in a committed relationship for six years and decided to have children together. In 2003, Kristina gave birth to their child, and Charisma provided the primary care for their daughter after Kristina returned to work. When their child was only a few months old, Kristina abruptly left their shared home and refused to allow Charisma to have any contact with their baby.

Charisma could not afford an attorney, so she filed a petition seeking parental rights on her own in 2004. The Family Court wrongly held that she was not a legal parent. NCLR and cooperating attorney Deborah Wald represented Charisma on appeal, and the Court of Appeal held that under a recent decision by the California Supreme Court, a same-sex partner of a biological mother can be a legal parent under California law.

In 2006, the Family Court held that Charisma is a legal parent and awarded her visitation. With the aid of a therapist, Charisma and her daughter began to reunify and rebuild their relationship. Meanwhile Kristina, who is represented by Liberty Counsel, the legal arm of Jerry Falwell’s anti-gay organization, appealed the trial court’s decision, but the California Court of Appeal affirmed that Charisma is a parent. . The California Supreme Court declined to review that decision, and Kristina then asked the United States Supreme Court to hear the case. The U.S. Supreme Court denied her petition on Feb. 22, 2010.

“We are extremely pleased that the U.S. Supreme Court has put an end to this distressing attempt by far-right groups to separate a child from one of her parents, ” said Cathy Sakimura, a staff attorney with NCLR. She added, “Charisma could not have protected her relationship with her daughter without the free legal representation provided by the private attorneys who partnered with us in this case. A child should never lose one of her parents just because the parent can’t afford a lawyer.”

Charisma is represented pro bono by Amanda List and Deborah Wald, with assistance from the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR). Amy Rose of Squire Sanders & Dempsey, LLP represented Charisma in the current appeal. Charisma has been previously represented by Algera Tucker and Rachel Catt.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights is a national legal organization committed to advancing the civil and human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their families through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education.