Conservative lawmakers in Kansas may be trying to reverse decades of gains, but a first-of-its-kind ruling from the state’s supreme court shows that even in the heart of conservative Kansas change is coming.
On Friday the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that the non-biological mother of children in a same-sex relationship has the same parental rights as the biological mother. The ruling is a significant victory for the rights of parents in non-traditional relationships and families and comes as nearby states like Iowa consider similar issues. “This is significant both in Kansas and nationally,” said Catherine Sakimura of the National Center for Lesbian Rights to The Kansas City Star Tribune. “It recognizes the rights of those who hold themselves out as parents regardless of biology or gender.”
Friday’s ruling involved the case of Kelly Goudschaal and Marci Frazier, two women whose long-term relationship ended after they had become parents of two girls who are now 10 and 8. The children were conceived by artificial insemination and were carried by Goudschaal. The couple had signed a co-parenting agreement that stated Frazier’s “relationship with the children should be protected and promoted,” and that they intended “to jointly and equally share parental responsibility.”
But after they separated, Goudschaal began limiting Frazier’s visitations and moved with the children to Texas. Frazier sued and asked a judge to enforce the parenting agreement. After a trial, Johnson County District Judge Kevin Moriarty found that joint custody was in the best interests of the children” and Goudschaal was granted residential custody. Frazier was ordered to pay monthly child support and was granted “reasonable parenting time.” Frazier appealed, arguing the court could only enforce parenting agreements that were supported by Kansas law and since Kansas did not recognize same-sex marriage, the district court’s findings were in error.
The Kansas Supreme Court disagreed, holding that “the public policy in Kansas requires our courts to act in the best interests of the children when determining the legal obligations to be imposed and the rights to be conferred in the mother and child relationship.” Not enforcing the parenting agreement in this case would deny the children the opportunity to have two parents as children in a traditional marriage would have, the court reasoned. “The agreement is not injurious to the public because it provides the children with the resources of two persons, rather than leaving them as the fatherless children of an artificially inseminated mother,” the court ruled.
As part of the ruling, the court ordered the appointment of an attorney to represent the interests if the children and said additional hearings should be held in the trial court concerning the issue of what is in the best interest of the children as well as issues related to property settlements between the women.
The decision grants legal standing to parenting agreements between same-sex couples, essentially placing them on similar footing as opposite-sex couples when it comes to courts respecting, and enforcing, parenting decisions the couples arrive at together. It’s a significant step in the direction of same-sex parenting relationships receiving equal treatment under the law. If Kansas courts have embraced this principle, then we really have come a long way in this fight.