LOS ANGELES - The California Supreme Court established yesterday broad custody rights and obligations for same-sex couples who raise children.
In three cases, the justices set the rules in an area where changes in family structure and advances in technology have outpaced traditional legal principles. In each case, they upheld the tenet that children born to gay couples should have two legally recognized parents.
Each of the cases involved a lesbian couple who had children then split up. In all three cases, custody disputes went to court. In one, the court ruled unanimously that a lesbian mother cannot avoid paying child support for her partner's biological children conceived when the pair lived together.
In a second case, the justices, on a 4-2 vote, held that a Marin County woman who provided eggs to a partner who was then artificially inseminated is legally the children's second mother, even though the egg provider had waived her rights before the children were conceived.
The third case was largely decided on procedural grounds. The court said a woman was not entitled to a hearing seeking to end the parental rights of her former partner, many years after the two agreed to a court order stipulating that both women were parents.
"We believe these rulings, taken together, are a victory for kids," said Tom Dresslar, a spokesman for Attorney General Bill Lockyer, whose office filed a brief in the child-support case that was cited by the court.
"The rulings recognize that the children of same-sex couples have the same interest in maintaining to the maximum extent possible ties to the people who raised them and love them."
"We are experiencing great relief," said Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights. The center represented the daughter, identified as Emily B., in the child-support case and argued on behalf of several groups in support of noncustodial parents in the other two cases.
"These are three of the most important cases the California Supreme Court has ever heard regarding the rights of children in gay- and lesbian-headed households."
A state law requires that children born after Jan. 1 this year to same-sex couples who are registered domestic partners be treated the same as children born to a married couple.
Tens of thousands of gay couples had children before the state's domestic partnership law went into effect, and the law had been confusing and often inconsistent for them.
Yesterday's rulings sought to bring order to the legal chaos. The rulings drew praise from advocates for children and gay rights, and was assailed by groups opposed to gay rights and same-sex unions.
"Despite junk science and frustrating rulings like this, children still need a mother and a father," said Randy Thomasson, president of Campaign for Children and Families.
The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.