Floridians still celebrating the end of the anti-gay adoption ban can hail another huge victory for gay parents and their children.
On Dec. 23, 2011, Florida's 5th Circuit Court of Appeal ruled that the state of Florida must recognize the parental rights of two lesbian moms, one the biological mother who contributed the egg and the other who was the birth mother.
The ruling comes as the result of a bitter custody battle between the couple, who had been together for 11 years. They planned the pregnancy, gave the child their hyphenated last names, and together raised their daughter for over two years. When the relationship ended and the custody negotiations turned sour, the birth mother claimed sole parental rights to the couple's daughter.
The appeals court decision overturns an earlier trial court decision. The trial court concluded that the law supported the birth mother, to the exclusion of the biological mother, and ruled in her favor even though they found her actions "morally reprehensible." In issuing the ruling that deprived the biological mother of her parental rights, the trial court judge said, "It breaks my heart, but this is the law." He concluded by saying, if his decision was appealed, "I hope I'm wrong."
Not only did the Fifth Circuit Court reverse the judge's decision by ruling that both women are legal parents to the child, but it also went further and found that the U.S. and Florida constitutions trump Florida law. It found unconstitutional a Florida statute (742.14), which denied the parental rights of an egg or sperm donor, as applied by the trial court, saying, "Interpretation and application of this statute by the trial court to deny Appellant parental rights to her child cannot withstand strict scrutiny and violates Appellant's constitutional rights to equal protection and privacy under the United States and Florida Constitutions."
This case is a victory for children, and the most recent in a succession of legal recognitions for gay couples: from the president's order that hospitals treat gay couples precisely as married couples, to the striking down of Florida's 33-year-old anti-gay adoption ban, to the dramatic shift in public opinion in favor of full legal rights for gay families.
The majority of Floridians, like the majority of Americans, believe gay couples and their children ought to have full legal protections. In this most recent case the court correctly put the best interest of the child first, one judge stating:
In my view it would be wrong to deprive the child of the benefits -- emotional, monetary and supportive -- of the relationship to which that child should be entitled with both the appellant and the appellee. Both of the adult women in this case are parents to [the child] in the real sense of the term. I think that we need to find a way to redirect our focus in cases of this kind so that best interests becomes part of the decisional matrix.
This court decision has wide-ranging implications, as the court's logic in deciding this case should apply to all children with two parents, regardless of a biological connection.