Relations Reporting on marriage, family, and sexuality

Mother v. mother

Family | Same-sex custody battles test the definition of parenthood
by Kiley Crossland
Posted 12/01/17, 03:04 pm

The Mississippi Supreme Court on Wednesday heard the case of a woman suing her former lesbian partner for parental rights.

A steady stream of same-sex custody battles is working its way through the courts in the wake of the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court Obergefell v. Hodges decision legalizing same-sex marriage. More same-sex couples are using donor eggs and sperm, surrogacy, and in vitro fertilization to conceive children, but most state laws regarding parental rights and assisted reproductive technology are based on biological assumptions—granting full parental rights to a married husband and wife, but not to a wife and wife or husband and husband.

LGBT advocates argue the redefinition of marriage necessitates a redefinition of parenthood. But critics say these cases are further dissolving the link between biology and parenthood and pushing against what social science has continually shown: Children do best when raised by their biological mother and father who are committed to one another in marriage.

The Mississippi case involves Christina Strickland and Kimberly Day, who legally married in 2009. Day gave birth to a son conceived by an anonymous sperm donor in 2010. But the two split in 2013, and a lower court judge last year gave Day full legal custody of the now-6-year-old boy during divorce proceedings, ruling that Strickland wasn’t a legal parent and the anonymous sperm donor had parental rights.

“The court finds two women cannot conceive a child together,” wrote Rankin County Chancery Judge John Grant in his ruling. “The court doesn’t find its opinion to be a discriminatory statement, but a biological fact.”

Strickland, 44, appealed the decision.

Arguing before the Mississippi Supreme Court on Wednesday, Strickland’s attorney said the court must affirm her parental rights because the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling legalizing gay marriage requires same-sex couples be treated equally. Strickland asked to be named on the birth certificate at the hospital after the boy’s birth but was refused.

“Whether you are married to the same sex or not, an anonymous sperm donor should never trump the parental rights of spouses, whether same or different sex, who plan for, provide for, care for, and love their children,” said Beth Littrell, Strickland’s attorney, according to The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss.

Day’s attorneys argued Strickland could have sought to legally terminate the sperm donor’s parental rights or adopt the boy. She did neither. It is unclear why the sperm donor’s rights were not terminated during the legal transfer, as is normally the case.

Strickland’s attorneys are using what used to be legally called a “presumption of paternity,” the assumption that the child of a wife was also the child of her husband, saying it should now be applied to same-sex couples, according to Peter Sprigg, senior fellow for policy studies at the Family Research Council. “We have gone from the presumption of something that was almost always going to be true in any case to presuming something that cannot possibly be true,” he said, adding that the argument shows the absurdity of the implications of the homosexual parenting movement.

But the tide is turning in that direction.

Other states, including Arkansas and Arizona, have recently ruled that same-sex couples can be named as sole parents on a birth certificate and receive the same presumption of parenthood as opposite-sex couples. Other states, including Colorado, New Jersey, and New York, have expanded the definition of parenthood to include caretakers who initially agreed to conceive and raise a child.

But Obergefell was about the granting of marriage licenses, not parenthood, Sprigg argued: “It should not be interpreted to having implications to this issue of parenting.” He noted that even if Obergefell necessitated the granting of parental rights to same-sex couples, this case involves a birth before the Supreme Court decision. “This couple was simply not married in the eyes of Mississippi at the time this child was born,” Sprigg said.

The Mississippi Supreme Court has not said when it will rule on the case.

Associated Press/Photo by Pontus Lundahl/TT Associated Press/Photo by Pontus Lundahl/TT Antje Jackelen

Our parent, who art in Heaven …

The Church of Sweden last week told its clergy to avoid referring to God as male. The guidance, announced at the end of an eight-day meeting with church leadership, urged members to refrain from unnecessarily using terms like “the Lord,” “Father,” and “Son” in favor of more gender-neutral terms such as “God” and “the Holy Trinity.”

More than 6 in 10 Swedes are a part of the Church of Sweden, which has 6.1 million baptized members.

Archbishop Antje Jackelen—the first female archbishop of the church—explained the shift in a television interview last week, saying that because God is not human, he is “beyond our gender determinations.”

But other Swedes are objecting to the new direction, saying it is “undermining the doctrine of the Trinity and the community with other Christian churches,” said Christer Pahlmblad, an associate theology professor at Lund University in Lund, Sweden.

Another point that Jackelen and the Swedish church seem to be ignoring: God calls Himself “The LORD” and “Father” in the Bible.

The decision was part of a modernization of the church’s 31-year-old handbook. The official changes will go into effect in May 2018. —K.C.

Creative Commons/Brackley Community Carnival Creative Commons/Brackley Community Carnival Girl Guides from Brackley, England

Boys sometimes allowed

Girlguiding, the U.K.’s version of the Girl Scouts, announced this week that boys who identify as girls will be allowed in girls-only tents, restrooms, and showers. The change was announced as part of the Girlguiding “Supporting Trans Members” policy.

The policy also says it is not a requirement, or even best practice, for leaders to tell parents that a transgender member will attend a residential or overnight event with their daughters.

These changes follow another controversial decision: In January, the group announced that men who identify as a woman can be Girlguiding leaders without notifying troop parents.

Pro-family groups are sounding the alarm, arguing the new policies threaten young girls and deny biology. And they are finding an unexpected ally in feminists.

“The concern that I and many feminists have about boys invading bedrooms, tents, and showers, is that disproportionately the victims of sexual violence are girls and women, and overwhelmingly, the perpetrators are boys and men,” said Julie Bindel, co-founder of the group Justice for Women. “This signifies the end to girl-only space and the safety of girls in single-sex organizations.” —K.C.

Family values in red and blue states

A New York Times editorial published earlier this month in the wake of the Roy Moore scandal was titled, “Blue States Practice the Family Values Red States Preach.” The column, written by Nicholas Kristof, cited data showing blue, or Democratic Party–led, states have lower rates of teens having sex, teen pregnancy rates, and divorce rates.

But the idea that Democrats have more stable families than Republicans is actually not true, according to researcher and marriage expert Bradford Wilcox, who published a rebuttal to Kristof this week in Politico titled, “No, Republicans Aren’t Hypocrites on Family Values.”

Wilcox, a senior fellow at the Institute for Family Values and a professor at the University of Virginia, said a closer look at county-level data shows “counties that lean Republican across the country as a whole have more marriage, less nonmarital childbearing, and more family stability than counties that lean Democratic.” —K.C.

Stall privacy

Students at an Alberta, Canada, high school are pushing back after administrators went too far to accommodate transgender students. The school installed gender-neutral restroom stalls throughout the building with only partially enclosed doors, a move advocates say accommodates LGBT student and doesn’t disadvantage others.

But more than half the student body at Sturgeon Composite High School recently signed a petition saying they feel uncomfortable in the gender-neutral restrooms and want their single-gender facilities back. The change left only one set of single-gender restrooms open, and one student told Canadian Global News her classmates are often tardy because the lines at the single-gender restrooms get backed up between classes. —K.C.

Kiley Crossland

Kiley is a WORLD Digital assistant editor and reports on marriage, family, and sexuality.

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  • Laura W
    Posted: Sat, 12/02/2017 12:01 am

    Why does anyone think it's a good idea to have a mixed-gender restroom without full, floor-to-ceiling walls around each stall? Especially with the ubiquity of cell-phone cameras these days.

  • PaulC
    Posted: Sat, 12/02/2017 02:56 am

    Is it not related to "professing to be wise they became fools"?

  • JerryM
    Posted: Sat, 12/02/2017 06:19 am

    Re: Battle over parenthood 

    Aided and abetted by the media, these adults are essentially battling for their own rights/wants not the welfare of the children.

    Re: Swedish news

    At the risk of kicking the proverbial hornet's nest, with the election of female arch/bishops we should not be surprised more unorthodox changes occur.


  • Midwest preacher
    Posted: Sun, 12/03/2017 05:19 am

    Re: Mother vs. mother

    We have only begun.  The changes made already which necessitate other changes and then more changes have only started.  Each new "inconvenient" adjustment causes others.