Court blocks conservatives’ attempts to meddle in lesbian couple’s divorce proceedings

The Tennessee Court of Appeals has ruled that lawmakers must cease their attempts to interfere in the state’s first same-sex divorce case, between lesbian couple Sabrina and Erica Witt.

52 state representatives and 19 state senators were attempting to have a legal say in the case, represented by the conservative legal group Family Action Council of Tennessee. Their attempts were blocked back in May, but they appealed.

This week, in an opinion authored by the court’s chief judge, D. Michael Swiney, the lawmakers were once again told to stop attempting to insert themselves into the proceedings.

Additionally, the court ruled that they would have to pay the legal and court fees for the appeal.

Erica Witt(Amy Smotherman Burgess/Knoxville News Sentinel via AP)

In this June 24, 2016 photo, Erica Witt, left, cries as she is denied same-sex parenting rights during a Knox County Circuit Court hearing in Knoxville, Tenn. Judge Greg McMillan opined that because she is a woman who legally married a woman, state law does not confer to her any parenting rights. At right is her attorney Virginia Schwamm.

A Knoxville judge initially ruled that Erica Witt had no legal right to custody of the child the couple conceived via artificial insemination because she did not meet the legal definition of “husband.” The judge ended up changing his mind, and granted the divorce and approved a plan for the couple to split custody.

The court ruled that there was no standing for the case, as the divorce proceedings had already concluded.

“Put simply, the divorce case is over, and there is no lawsuit left in which to intervene,” Judge Swiney wrote.

“All of these issues are private rights and claims personal to the parties to the (divorce),” the opinion continued. “The actual case, a divorce, simply does not involve issues of great importance to the public and the administration of justice.”

The couple wed in Washington, D.C. and had their child in Tennessee in January 2015, before the Supreme Court ruling making same-sex marriage legal nationwide, and at a time when the state still did not recognize it. Therefore, Erica Witt’s name was left off the birth certificate.

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