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Conover Parenting Ruling Brings Maryland in Step With Majority of States; Will New York Follow?

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July 13, 2016
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Susan Sommer

On July 7, Maryland’s high court took a major step in recognizing and protecting the families formed by same-sex couples, a step Lambda Legal fervently hopes New York’s high court will soon take as well. 

In Conover v. Conover the Maryland Court of Appeals issued a life-changing ruling for the little boy in that case and his non-biological parent, who with a same-sex partner had planned for his birth and raised him until the child’s biological mother cut off contact following the couple’s break-up. 

Conover reversed a devastating 2008 Maryland ruling that had been a barrier for non-genetic, non-adoptive parents seeking custody and visitation with the children they had reared with their same-sex partners—the children’s legally recognized adoptive or genetic parents.

Lambda Legal’s amicus brief in the case argued that the court’s earlier ruling was outmoded, disrespecting the families formed by same-sex couples by treating functional second parents as legal strangers to their children. 

Most critically, the children of these families suffer devastating harm when their parent-child relationships are denied legal recognition and protection.  Especially after Obergefell v. Hodges, the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 marriage ruling, courts should no longer deny same-sex couples and their children the legal recognition and protections that come from respecting the parent-child bonds and families they form. 

Indeed, as our brief argued, Maryland had fallen out of step with the majority of states around the nation, most recently Kansas and Oklahoma, whose high courts had recognized the vital parent-child bonds formed between children of same-sex couples and their intended second parents.

The children of these families suffer devastating harm when their parent-child relationships are denied legal recognition and protection.

The Maryland court adopted the standard Lambda Legal advocated for determining whether an adult qualifies as a parent to their child, in the absence of genetic or adoptive ties or bonds created through marriage to the child’s legally recognized parent. This tried-and-true standard, first adopted in Wisconsin more than two decades ago and since followed or adapted in many other states, gives standing to seek parental rights to a person who

  1. with the consent of the child’s legally recognized parent established a parental relationship with the child,
  2. lived in the same home with the child,
  3. assumed significant obligations of parenthood, and
  4. was in a parental role for a length of time sufficient to have established parent-child bonds with the child. 

The sad circumstances in Conover, and Maryland’s obsolete, harsh law withholding protections to children of same-sex couples, are all too familiar in New York, where the same question awaits a high court ruling in Brooke S.B. v. Elizabeth C.-C. Lambda Legal represents Brooke, the non-biological parent in that case, in an effort to overturn outmoded New York precedent treating parents like her as legal strangers to their children. 

Lambda Legal argued in the New York Court of Appeals in June 2016 on behalf of Brooke, making the same plea that persuaded the Maryland high court to bring its law in line with the reality of children’s families and their best interests. 

We hope that soon Brooke’s son can be reunited with his “Mama B.”  Both deserve legal protections for the parent-child bonds New York law has too long disregarded.     

Maryland, New York