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Lesbian mom granted 'husband's rights' and shared custody in landmark case

Tennessee judge reversed an earlier decision to deny custody after community backlash

Lesbian mom granted 'husband's rights' and shared custody in landmark case
Pixabay | Public Domain
The women married in 2014 but separated after the birth of their daughter

A woman can be given a ‘husband’s rights’ to a child when a same-sex couple settles custody, according to a judge in Tennessee.

Knoxville, Tennessee couple Erica and Sabrina Witt wed in 2014 and Sabrina later had their daughter with the help of a sperm donor.

Erica never obtained formal adoption papers, which led the judge to initially rule she had no legal right to custody — the legal definition of ‘husband’ did not apply to her.

Fourth Circuit Court Judge Greg McMillan could only give her the rights of a stepparent at first, saying: ‘I believe this is a situation where she has no biological relationship with this child, has no contractual relationship with this child.’

But after an uproar from the community and activist groups, the judge reversed his decision on 11 May and granted the couple joint custody after their divorce.

This is the first case of its kind, according to Erica’s attorney, who requested the judge interpret ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ as ‘spouse’ and ‘spouse’ in the Witts’ case.

Tennesee law is tough on LGBTI custody

Facebook/Tennesse

Kathrine Guthrie and family are fighting against Tennessee legislation

The ruling comes days after four expecting lesbian couples in Tennesee launched a lawsuit against the state for its new law requiring state legal codes be interpreted by their ‘natural and ordinary’ meanings.

The Witt case actually goes against this new regulation, which requires judges to apply the ‘traditional’ definition of ‘husband’ and ‘wife,’ ‘mother’ and ‘father,’ and other gender-implicit descriptors.

The couples suing the state fear that the law will strip them of many of their parental rights, including healthcare, custody and traveling with their children across state borders.

Kathrine Guthrie, one of the women involved in the suit, said on Facebook: ‘We did our best to avoid this but desperate times call for desperate measures when parental rights are on the line… and a due date is a firm deadline.’

The state has denied the legislation is an attempt to stifle LGBTI parents’ rights, but attorney Julie Tate-Keith, who represents the couples, told NBC News: ‘If this isn’t about gay people, why are we talking about gay people?’


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