T.B. v. L.R.M.
The parents in this case, identified by their initials to protect the child’s privacy, were in a long-term relationship and raised their child together for three years. After their breakup in 1996, L.R.M., the biological mother, refused to allow T.B. visits with their daughter, despite T.B.’s daily parental role in the child’s life. Since 2001 Lambda Legal has successfully defended T.B.’s visitation rights in court. Following a protracted battle, the supreme court of Pennsylvania said that a lesbian or gay parent may seek visitation or custody of a child, even if there is no biological or legal tie, if she or he assumed a parental status and performed parental duties over time with the consent of the legal parent. Further, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania later ruled that alienation of a child by the biological parent was not a valid basis to deny visitation to a nonbiological parent.
Lambda Legal's Impact
In this case, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania rightly recognized that the same rules that the court has applied to other families apply to partners in sex-same couples, and awarded a lesbian mother legal standing as a parent. The case protects the rights of gay and lesbian parents to be fully recognized as such, even if they are not biologically related to their children. The court later decided that alienation by one parent of the child against the other parent is not a valid basis to deny visitation, and that the law against alienation should apply to all parents — without regard to sexual orientation or legal status.
- August 1997 Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas determines that T.B. has parental status and grants visitation of her daughter.
- June 2000 Superior Court of Pennsylvania recognizes right of lesbian and gay parents, unanimously holding that L.R.M. cannot claim that her biological ties to her daughter give her absolute rights to the child.
- December 2001 Partial Victory! The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania affirms the Superior Court’s ruling, holding that the same rules that the court has applied to other families apply to partners in sex-same couples. The decision does not automatically grant visitation, but gives T.B. the chance to see her child again.
- June 2004 Case is sent back to lower court to determine visitation and custody arrangements. Lower court says that L.R.M. was so successful at alienating the child that it was in the best interests of the child to remain separated from her other mother.
- February 2005 Lambda Legal argues before Superior Court of Pennsylvania that lower court was wrong to deny T.B. visitation with her child after her ex-partner worked to alienate the child from her.
- March 2005 Victory! Superior Court of Pennsylvania issues unanimous ruling granting T.B. visitation with her daughter, saying that alienation does not apply for opposite-sex or same-sex parents.
- December 2005 Victory! Supreme Court of Pennsylvania denies review, allowing the ruling granting visitation to stand.
Patricia M. Logue
Roger D. McGill of Smorto, Persio, Webb & McGill in Ebensburg, Pennsylvania