The UK's Court of Appeal has ruled that a lesbian woman should have joint access rights to the biological children of her former partner. The children, aged three and six, were conceived, using donor sperm, while the women were still a couple. The judges said that same-sex partners should have the same legal rights as estranged heterosexual couples.
The 46-year old woman lived with her former partner until 2003, when their relationship ended. After the women separated, the woman who was not the biological mother of the children applied for parental rights but was continually 'frustrated' in her attempts by her former partner, who denied her access to the children. Now, the unnamed British woman has been awarded joint residency rights to the two children she raised with her former partner, despite a lower court previously ruling against her. The County Court had ruled that the biological mother should have sole access to the children, with the other woman having only contact rights. After the County Court decision, the mother announced she was moving away with her new partner and did not want the other woman to have contact. The Court of Appeal has now overturned the original decision, saying that shared parental responsibility would provide a 'vital side of family life' for the children and benefit their psychological and emotional health.
Lord Justice Thorpe, giving the judgement of the Court of Appeal, said that the lower court had been wrong to deny the woman access to the children. He cited the report of the court welfare officer, who had said that the two children needed to know the woman in order to have 'a clear picture of where they fit in'. He noted that the case was the first of its kind to reach the Court of Appeal, and said that lesbian and gay parents should be legally recognised in the same way as heterosexual couples when it comes to contact with children. New legislation on Civil Partnerships will give these rights automatically, so there is no reason for the court not to recognise them in advance. 'What has been said about the importance of fathers is of equal application in same-sex parents', he said. A spokesman for Stonewall, a charity campaigning for lesbian, gay and bisexual equality, said the ruling was a 'positive step, since it shows courts are now recognising that parents from same-sex couples can both have a vital role to play in bringing up children, as they do in heterosexual couples'.