The Michigan Court of Appeals has recognized an unmarried same-sex couple as the parents of their children for the purpose of a custody agreement.
LaNesha Matthews and Kyresha LeFever started dating in 2011. They decided to start their family by using LeFever’s eggs and a donor’s sperm. Matthews carried the pregnancy and gave birth to twin boys, who the women raised together.
The couple separated in 2014, before same-sex marriage was legal in Michigan. They shared custody of their twin boys for several years, before they went to court over a dispute.
That’s when a Detroit-area judge ordered Matthews’ name to be removed from the childrens’ birth certificates. Instead of a genetic parent, she was declared a surrogate with no parental rights.
According to the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which represented Matthews on appeal, she was prevented from participating in the boys’ educational or medical decision-making, and only allowed limited visitation as an unrelated “third party.”
Last week, the NCLR said the Michigan Court of Appeals unanimously reversed the trial court’s ruling, and found that LaNesha and Kyresha are both equal parents to their children.
The court's decision also sets a new precedent for same-sex non-biological parental rights in Michigan, according to the NCLR.
“One of the judges wrote an additional opinion explaining that all parents and their children have a constitutional right to be recognized, regardless of birth or genetics,” the NCLR said.
NCLR Family Law Director Cathy Sakimura said the organization was grateful that their client and her children are once again recognized as a family.
“We know that families are formed in many ways,” Sakimura said. “Recognizing genetics as the only basis for parent-child relationships leaves out many families and harms children by separating them from their parents.”
The couple’s custody case will now return to their local county court, according to the Associated Press.