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Michigan Supreme Court refuses to hear lesbian partner’s child custody case

Wednesday, July 27, 2011
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The Michigan Supreme Court has declined to review a case that could have given gay, lesbian, and unmarried heterosexual couples legal standing to obtain joint custody of their children.

Detroit Free Press

Renee Harmon

A 4-3 court majority on Friday denied Renee Harmon’s appeal request along party lines. The three Democratic justices on the court, Michael F. Cavanagh, Diane M. Hathaway and Marilyn J. Kelly, dissented.

The case involves Renee Harmon and Tammy Davis, whose 19-year relationship ended in 2008. Davis is the biological mother (via artificial insemination) to their three children. After the relationship ended, Harmon was initially given, then denied, visitation and she sued for parenting time. A Wayne County judge ruled in April 2010 that Harmon had legal standing to try to pursue joint custody of the children she helped raise, but the Michigan Court of Appeals reversed that decision.

This case brings into question the scope of Michigan’s “equitable parent” doctrine and whether Harmon’s constitutional rights were violated when the Court of Appeals ruled that she lacked standing as a parent. The equitable parent doctrine recognizes a legal relationship between a de facto parent and child when the parent desires such recognition and is willing to support the child.

“I find it tragic that the justices in the majority party are unwilling to grant these three children access to one of the only two parents they’ve ever known,” said Denise Brogan-Kator, Executive Director of Equality Michigan, in a statement.

“These children are also denied the financial and emotional support that comes from recognizing both parents. Cases like this should not be decided based on the relationship of the adults to one another, but rather based on the relationship of the adult to the children. We hope that a federal court will examine the constitutional questions and consider the best interests of the children. It’s sad that the Michigan Supreme Court has refused to do so.

“This court action continues the systematic attacks that prevent lesbian and gay parents from creating and maintaining strong families in Michigan. The case underscores the need for more pro-equality candidates to run for judicial positions throughout the state. Legal recognition of families headed by lesbian and gay parents is long overdue – we have fallen far behind other states.”

Harmon now plans to take her case to federal courts.

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