JACKSON, Miss. — The Mississippi Supreme Court has ruled that a lesbian woman has parental rights to her former “spouse’s” son even though she is not the boy’s biological mother and her partner has gone on to marry a man.
All nine justices disagreed with a lower court ruling that stated that child’s other parent is the sperm donor, and that the boy has a father even if he is absent since two women can never conceive a child together.
The justices said that since sperm donors do not possess parental rights under Mississippi law, to conclude otherwise “would disrupt the familial relationships and expectations of Mississippians who have conceived children” via in vitro fertilization.
“For one, it would elevate the rights of a donor—who is a complete stranger to the child, and likely never will be identified—over the rights of a person who has known and cared for the child,” wrote Justice David Ishee.
“At bottom, to deny Christina the relationship she has built with Z.S. would be a miscarriage of justice,” he said.
As previously reported, Christina Strickland had been seeking equal custody of Kimberly Day’s six-year-old son Zayden, who was conceived in 2011 via artificial insemination while they were in a lesbian relationship. The two, which had “wed” in Massachusetts in 2009, separated in 2013 and officially were “divorced” in 2016.
Day went on to marry a man, Mitch Paul, who sat in the courtroom with his wife while the Mississippi Supreme Court heard oral argument in September. Strickland says that after Day married Paul in 2015, she stopped allowing her to see Zayden and a teenage boy that Day adopted in 2007.
During the divorce proceedings in October 2016, Rankin County Chancery Judge John Grant gave sole custody of Zayden to Day, stating that while the boy was “a child born during the marriage” he was not “a child born of the marriage.” Read the ruling here.
“Zayden has got a natural father somewhere,” he wrote. “The court hasn’t seen anything placed before it to show that the natural father’s parental rights have been terminated. The court questions: Is the natural father not Zayden’s father, even though he is an absent one? The court is of the opinion the natural father is Zayden’s father.”
“That the court therefore concludes that Zayden is a child born during the marriage, not of the marriage, because the conception of Zayden is impossible between two females,” Grant continued. “The court concludes there is a natural father. The natural father may never come into court. He may never be known, and probably won’t be, but he is still a father; and that is a right that our Supreme Court has recognized for many, many years.”
While he concluded that Strickland does indeed have rights to visitation as she had a “bond” with Zayden in helping to care for him—and ordered her to pay child support—Grant gave sole custody to Day.
However, on Thursday, the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled that Strickland should be recognized as the co-parent of the child because of the relationship the two had and their intentions to raise a child together. They also disagreed that the male donor should be considered Zayden’s father.
“[W]e hold that under Mississippi law, an anonymous sperm donor does not possess any parental rights in a child conceived through the use of his sperm,” Ishee wrote. “And to that end, the chancery court erred in finding that an anonymous sperm donor here was Z.S.’s parent, whose rights were subject to termination.”
The case has been remanded back to the lower court to determine the specifics of child custody.
The late author and preacher A.W. Pink once said, “Why does the sinner choose a life of sinful indulgence? Because he prefers it. Man chooses that which is according to his nature, and therefore, before he will ever choose or prefer that which is divine or spiritual, a new nature must be imparted to him: in other words, he must be born again.”