In Tennessee, and across America as a whole, domestic law seeks to ensure that parental rights are protected and also that the child’s best interest is met. With respect to parental choices concerning their child’s upbringing and well-being, laws concerning parental rights seek to champion parents as the superior authority in their child’s life as means to a beneficial end. In parental right’s cases, the authority given to the parents of a child must be distinct and well-defined.
In 2015 Supreme Court case Obergefell v. Hodges, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the law would recognize the legal legitimacy of same sex-marriages. Assumedly, this landmark decision would also extend to protect the rights of same-sex parents. However, because of a spectrum of world views and advancements in reproductive rights, there have been a myriad of cases that made this issue less than clear. For example, in Tennessee, a non-biological parent of a heterosexual couple can be given parental rights to a child born as a result of a surrogacy arrangement, yet until last week, there remained much controversy as to whether or not these same rights could extend to children born by artificial means to spouses in same-sex marriages.
Recently, parental protections for same-sex couples was brought to the forefront in a suit filed in response to a controversial bill, HB 1111, which was signed into law by Governor Haslam in May of 2017. The legislation addresses undefined terminology within the Tennessee Annotated Code, which sought to define the terms as “husband, wife, mother, and father.” As a result of defining those terms, the non-biological woman in a same-sex marriage could not be named the “father” or “mother” of a child that she did not help conceive.
Four same-sex couples brought suit against the State of Tennessee, stating that the legislation had violated the protections of equal rights and due process guaranteed by both the U.S. and Tennessee Constitutions. The Chancellor in Davidson County dismissed the lawsuit citing that the couples could not prove that their rights had been violated, but accompanied the decision with an order stating that same-sex couples within the state of Tennessee are entitled to the same rights and protections as heterosexual couples whose children have been born through artificial insemination. This decision followed shortly after last month’s decision in which the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex Arkansas couples that claimed discrimination following legislation that required a court order to be filed for both parents to appear on the child’s birth certificate.
A child’s welfare is of the utmost importance; therefore, it is imperative for parents to be aware of their rights and make a continual effort to establish the healthiest relationship possible with their child. If the ability of the parents to raise their child is being infringed in a way that would endanger the future wellbeing of the child, swift and proper legal action should be considered in order to ensure that all rights and claims are preserved. In the event that rights are denied, it is important that any parent timely document each infringement and seek legal advice immediately. This will greatly aid any potential legal action to help ensure that their parental rights are enforced. If you feel that your parental rights are being infringed, Breeding Henry Baysan has experience in handling all types of domestic cases and not only keeping the client’s, but also their child’s, best interest in mind.