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Lesbian parents in the United States shouldn’t need to adopt their own children

When the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the landmark abortion rights case Roe vs. Wade On June 24, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people across the United States were horrified to learn that in addition to having key reproductive rights protections revoked, their marriages and relationships could be the next. In his agreement opinionJustice Clarence Thomas suggested the court reconsider previous rulings enshrining constitutional rights to contraception and same-sex marriage and relationships.

The case of a lesbian mother in Oklahoma fighting for the legal paternity of her child shows what happens when states decide what rights gay people deserve. In January 2022, an Oklahoma court deleted Kris Williams from her child’s birth certificate, replacing it with the name of the sperm donor, who is now seeking custody of Williams’ son.

Williams and his wife Rebekah Wilson conceived their child in 2019 and his wife gave birth. When the couple filed for divorce two years later, Wilson asked the court to remove Williams from the birth certificate. The judge ruled in favour, stating that as a non-pregnant mother, Williams “did not pursue legal recourse to establish parental rights”. According to the judge, Williams should have adopted her own son. The court will rule on legal parentage at a hearing in August.

Supreme Court judgments in 2015 and 2017 grants same-sex couples the same parental rights and responsibilities as opposite-sex couples. The Oklahoma court’s assertions in the Williams case deny her the rights given to opposite-sex married couples. The case highlights persistent precariousness legal parenthood for lesbians, especially those who do not give birth to their children.

Requiring that non-gestational lesbian parents adopt their children also reifies racial and class inequalities in the United States. Adoption requires financial ressources, legal representationand criminal background check. Systemic racism and racist policing have produced a over-representation lesbian, bisexual and queer (LBQ+) women of color in the criminal justice system. They are subject to high rates of police violencedeprived of their rights to adequate legal representation and fair trialcaught in cycles of incarcerationand face discriminatory treatment by establishments like child protective services if they become parents.

State courts like Oklahoma’s should affirm rather than erode the rights of LGBT parents, and legislatures should enact LGBT Inclusive Parental Recognition Bills.

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