Four expectant two-mom (well, mom-to-be) couples in Tennessee are suing the State of Tennessee after Gov. Bill Haslam (R) signed a bill requiring state law to interpret words by their “natural and ordinary meaning”—which LGBTQ advocates say could deny rights to same-sex couples. But the week also saw good news for one nonbiological mom fighting for custody rights in the state.
The four married couples, NBC News reports, filed the lawsuit Friday right after Gov. Haslam signed the bill. And although the new law could have repercussions for any same-sex couple, parents or not, it has a particular resonance for those with children.
The law was motivated by the efforts of conservative legislators to intervene last fall in a Knoxville custody battle between Sabrina and Erica Witt. The women, former legal spouses, had had a child through assisted insemination. State law says “a child born to a married woman as a result of artificial insemination, with consent of the married woman’s husband, is deemed to be the legitimate child of the husband and wife.” LGBTQ advocates feel that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell, which made marriage equality the law of the land, requires terms like “husband” and “wife” to apply to any gender for the purpose of law. That would mean the nonbiological mother, just like a nonbiological father in a different-sex couple, would be a legal parent. The court, however, ruled against Erica, the nonbiological mother.
Despite this apparent, “win,” conservatives wanted to make sure there was no dispute next time, and introduced the “natural meaning” legislation, which the governor signed last week.
Cue the lawsuit by four expectant two-woman couples, each due this fall. They argue that the “natural meaning” law would mean the child couldn’t be covered by the nonbiological mother’s health insurance; wouldn’t be able to have both parents visit her in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) if needed; would not be able to access the nonbiological mother’s Social Security benefits; or be taken care of by the nonbiological mother in the event of death or incapacity of the biological mother.
Even as the new law began last week, though, 4th Circuit Court Judge Greg McMillan reversed his earlier decision and granted Erica Witt the rights of “father” to her child, reports the Knoxville News-Sentinel. She may see the child and must pay child support.
An attempt by a conservative legal group to intervene in the case earlier may have backfired. McMillan had told them, “The court finds that the current request to intervene constitutes an attempt to bypass the separation of powers provided for by the Tennessee constitution.” The group has said they will appeal his refusal to let them intervene. I find this despicable. All it does is add stress to a family and keep alive the possibility that a child won’t have the care and protection of both parents. For now, though, Erica Witt cannot be kept from the child that is hers by intent, love, and care.
Congratulations to her—and best wishes to the four other soon-to-be mom couples who are stepping up to fight the new law.