Lesbian Mom Denied Right to Seek Visitation
(ATLANTA, June 24, 1999) -- A Florida appeals court has ruled that a lesbian mother who raised a child with her former partner but lacks a biological or adoptive tie to the child does not have the right to seek visitation or custody now that the couple has split up, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund said Thursday.
A three-judge panel of the Fourth District Court of Appeal in West Palm Beach on Wednesday refused even to give Penny Kazmierazak the opportunity to present evidence about the maternal bonds between her and her daughter Zoey, now six years old.
"The court focused on the rights of Penny's former partner without stopping to consider the harm that befalls a child who is cut off from one of her parents," said Staff Attorney Stephen R. Scarborough of Lambda's Southern Regional Office in Atlanta.
"Penny was there from the moment Zoey was born. She planned for Zoey's birth and even paid the medical bills. The law is truly out of step with the times if it won't allow a loving and caring mother the opportunity to see her child," said Scarborough, who argued the case last month. Lambda along with Vero Beach attorney Elizabeth Brooker represents Kazmierazak.
Kazmierazak and her former partner, Pamela Query, had been in a committed relationship for years when they planned to have a child together. Because Kazmierazak, a disabled veteran, could not get pregnant, Query carried the child, who was born in 1993. Kazmierazak was present in the delivery room and the women sought to have her listed on the birth certificate as a parent. More importantly, she was Zoey's primary caretaker, including while Pamela cared for an ailing relative.
Banned from adoption under Florida's anti-gay law, the couple tried to protect their daughter's relationships with both mothers by executing a "delegation of parental authority" to Kazmierazak. But when the couple split up in 1997, Query began restricting Kazmierazak's contact with Zoey, and in the spring of 1998, she cut off contact altogether.
The appeals decision upholds a trial judge's 1998 ruling that Kazmierazak had no standing to seek custody or even visitation -- refusing even to reach the question whether Penny and Zoey had a mother-daughter relationship.
Said Kazmierazak, "My heart is broken with this ruling. The court just slammed the door on me without even hearing the facts. There is no justice in separating me from my daughter."
The court declared in its unanimous 5-page opinion in Kazmierazak v. Query that psychological parents do not have the same rights as biological parents, and that courts could not intervene absent evidence of harm to the child. Yet the ruling means that no evidentiary hearing will be held to determine what is in the young girl's best interests.
Lambda is the nation's oldest and largest gay legal organization, headquartered in New York and with regional offices in Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Chicago.
Contact: Stephen R. Scarborough 404-897-1880 x 23; Peg Byron 212-809-8585 x 230, 888-987-1984 pager