News (USA)

Lesbian couple in New Jersey again locked in legal battle with sperm donor

Sheena and Tiara Yates
Sheena and Tiara Yates, pictured here in 2011 on the day of their civil union.

When Sheena and Tiara Yates decided they wanted to have a second child, the lesbian couple sought out a sperm donor and drew up a contract in which the man agreed to give up his paternity rights – a measure they believed would spare them a second custody battle with a donor.

Their child, conceived through at-home artificial insemination, is now 1 year old, and the couple is again locked in a custody dispute.

Under New Jersey law, a non-biological parent can only be considered the child’s natural parent when the insemination process is carried out under the direct supervision of a physician.

While the couple did meet with a physician who performed an exam and prescribed prenatal vitamins, their attorney argues that requiring that artificial insemination be carried out only by a doctor puts lower income people – both gay and straight – at a disadvantage, citing the high costs involved with fertility clinics and sperm banks.

“All we want is a family, and we can’t have kids without an outside party,” Sheena Yates, recently told The South Jersey Times, which first reported the case. “It’s a lot for us to have to deal with. It’s not just hard on us, it’s hard on the kids, too.”

Susan Sommer, director of constitutional litigation for Lambda Legal, said the Yates’ story is an example of the traditional way courts look at parenting not properly addressing the ways children are born using methods like artificial insemination.

“Our laws really need to catch up to reality,” Sommer said. “It’s children who are getting hurt.”

Sommer said that judges don’t always dig into the specifics of whether a doctor is directly involved in an artificial insemination procedure, but she said that biological fathers seeking to overturn earlier agreements often look for loopholes.

“There shouldn’t be a sort of gotcha simply because a physician was not in the room,” she said.

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