Although it has been two years since same-sex marriage became legal throughout the U.S., some states have been slow in granting equal parenting rights to non-biological parents in these relationships.

Many lesbian couples have children via artificial insemination from a sperm donor. However, that leaves the spouse who doesn’t give birth to the child in the position of not legally being considered the child’s parent and fighting for custody if the couple splits up.

Here in Tennessee, there has been considerable debate over the language in current laws regarding parental rights where a child was conceived via artificial insemination. State law uses gender-specific words like “wife,” “husband,” “mother” and “father.”

This spring, the legislature passed and the governor signed into law a bill that said that words that are undefined in the law were to be interpreted as having their “natural and ordinary meanings.” Gay rights advocates have said that this undermines the rights of same-sex parents through artificial insemination.

Four lesbian couples who had used a sperm donor to conceive a child sued the state after the law was passed. That suit was dismissed this month on the grounds that the couples couldn’t prove that their individual rights had been violated by the law. None of the babies has yet been born.

However, the judge ruled that homosexual couples in the state have the same rights regarding children conceived through artificial insemination as heterosexual couples do. The couples and their attorney therefore declared the ruling a victory. The attorney said, “We have a Tennessee court order saying same-sex couples are to be treated the same as opposite-sex couples.”

There will likely be more court cases to come that may be decided on their individual merits. That’s why it’s essential to have the guidance of a Tennessee family law attorney with experience representing same-sex couples if you are fighting a custody battle.

Source: WVLT Knoxville Channel 8, “Tennessee judge rules gay couples have equal parental rights,” July 24, 2017