For decades, same-sex couples struggled not only to get legal recognition of their unions but also of their identity as parents. On Tuesday, a ruling by the New York State Court of Appeals took a major step forward to ensure families of all kinds get the support they need during custody disputes. New York has broadened the definition of parent, a shift that may make life much easier for same-sex couples.
In its decision, the court wrote that its 25-year-old definition of a parent is outdated, according to NBC New York:
We simply conclude that, where a petitioner proves by clear and convincing evidence that he or she has agreed with the biological parent of the child to conceive and raise the child as co-parents, the petitioner has presented sufficient evidence to achieve standing to seek custody and visitation of the child.
This means two major things. First, an individual who does not have a biological tie to their child can still be considered a parent in court, NBC New York reported. For example, if someone gives birth through artificial insemination using donor sperm, their partner now can easily identify as a parent even though they did not participate in physically conceiving the child. The second major development is that an individual who did not legally adopt a child or is not recognized as their legal guardian can still be considered that child's parent.
Before this most recent decision, New York's definition of a parent dated back to the case of Alison D. v. Virginia M., according to The New York Times. In 1991, the court determined that an individual who lacked a biological relationship to a child and who was not a child's legal guardian was barred from being recognized as the child's parent, The Wall Street Journal reported. But over the past few decades, America's understanding of what it means to be a family evolved significantly.
Back in 2011, The New York Times reported that New York became the sixth state to legalize same-sex marriage, joining "Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont, as well as the District of Columbia." But until today, New York law hadn't begun to recognize how new unions and changing family life impacted what it means to be a parent. There are likely still updates and revisions ahead: according to The Wall Street Journal, the court also stated that it may, at some point, need to recognize as parents individuals without a biological or adoptive relationship who entered a child's life long after the child was born. Those critical of the decision also want courts to ensure that the new definition can't be used for nuisance claims. But for now, the definition change is a step toward ensuring same-sex couples and couples who had a baby using artificial insemination don't have to fight to be recognized as parents.