A same-sex Oklahoma couple, Kris Williams and Rebekah Wilson, decided to have a kid. They found a sperm donor, everything worked out, and then the couple officially married while Rebekah was pregnant with the baby. When their son was born, he was given Kris’s surname, with both Rebekah and Kris were listed as parents on the birth certificate.
By the time the child was two years old, however, the couple broke up, with Rebekah alleging during the divorce proceedings that Kris had been abusive towards her and their son. Rebekah then took the son and moved in with the sperm donor / bio-dad, Harlan Vaughn, and successfully argued in court that Kris was not in fact, the child’s parent.
An Oklahoma judge agreed, at least initially. Kris’s name was retroactively removed from the birth certificate — though the judge agreed to later reinstate her name, without a guarantee of any accompanying parental rights. In the meantime, Rebekah had another child with Harlan.
According to a court filing, the initial sperm donation agreement was only made between Rebekah and Harlan, who signed a document acknowledging that Rebekah would “conceive and raise” the child alone, and that Harlan would agree to “facilitate the adoption of the minor child if asked to do so.” The sperm donation paperwork makes no mention of Kris, or her potential parental status. Following the birth of the child, Kris did not take any formal or official steps to legally adopt her son, other than putting her name on the birth certificate. Therefore, the judge argued, in accordance with the sperm donation agreement, the child’s parental rights reverted back to Rebekah and Harlan.
(Curiously, that same document also specifically states that Kris and Rebekah had stopped having sex while Rebekah was pregnant, and that they had not sex since getting legally married, and therefore they could “pursue an annulment based upon the failure to consummate their marriage” — which is both a minor detail, but also one that speaks to the antiquated nature of this particular legal clusterfuck.)
I’ll quote 19th News directly here:
“I don’t feel like we should have to adopt our own children,” [Kris] Williams told the 19th. “If I was a man, then nobody could come back and you know, question whether that child was mine or not, after they’re the age of two.”
McGuire reinstated Williams on the birth certificate in June, and Williams’ name remains. But the issue of Williams’ parental rights was still undecided until February 13, when McGuire ruled that Oklahoma’s parentage act predated marriage equality and therefore didn’t apply to Williams and Wilson.
Legal experts warn that the case could have substantial implications for marriage equality nationwide. Advocates battled a number of cases to enshrine same-sex marriage protections after the Supreme Court granted those rights nationwide in 2015. Among those fights was the right of parentage. The 2015 Supreme Court case Pavan v. Smith found that it was unconstitutional to treat queer couples differently than heterosexual couples when it came to presuming parentage. If married heterosexual couples were presumed to be parents of children born during their marriage, the same must be true for LGBTQ+ couples.
My sister-in-law gave birth to my nephew last June; I’ll admit to ignorance that I was shocked when my sister said that she still had to legally adopt him. Granted, that was New York state, not Oklahoma, so I wrongly assumed things would be easier. But apparently not! And this kind of ugly bureaucratic situation has made me want to call her and make sure all the t’s are crossed. Oof.
An Oklahoma judge just transferred a lesbian mom’s parental rights to her son’s sperm donor [Kate Sosin and Sara Luterman / 19th News]