Supreme Court Will Consider Parental Rights for Former Lesbian Couple

Supreme Court Will Consider Parental Rights for Former Lesbian Couple

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The case of a lesbian who wants to be a parent to a child born to a former girlfriend will be heard by the Utah Supreme Court.

The issue before the high court on Tuesday will be whether the woman is legally entitled to a continuing parental relationship with the child when the biological parent objects.

Keri Lynn Jones and Cheryl Pike Barlow met in 2000 and were together about three years.

"Probably after we were dating six months maybe, we decided we wanted to have a baby in the next year so we spent a lot of time talking to our attorney," Jones contends.

Jones contends they intended to rear the girl -- now 4 years old -- together and took several steps to establish legal relationship for her and the baby. Barlow disputes that she ever intended for Jones to have a legal relationship to the child.

At the beginning both women shared in the joy of the birth. But then, Barlow said, she discovered Jones was having an affair with another woman.

"I did enter into this relationship thinking she and I could have a life together," Barlow said. "I was dead wrong."

After the breakup, Barlow, a former gay activist, said that she "left the gay lifestyle" and converted to an evangelical Christian faith.

Barlow said Jones has no legal ties to her daughter and, as the mother, Barlow believes she should decide if Jones can see the girl.

"I never elected a legal relationship with her," Barlow said. "Nor did I put myself in the position that she would have legal rights to my child."

Utah law prevented Jones from adopting the girl.

The issue before the state Supreme Court could test earlier common law court rulings in Utah that have allowed visitation by divorced stepparents. But the U.S. Supreme Court has handed down rulings that establish a biological parent's right to make the decision.

Last December, 3rd District Judge Timothy Hanson ruled that although Jones had no legal right by adoption or marriage, there was a parental relationship between the girl and Jones. He ordered visitation for Jones as being in the best interest of the child.

"This case is not about gay marriage. This case is not about gay adoption. What this case is about is whether or not a child is better off in this rather uncertain world with as many people as possible taking an interest in the child, both financially and emotionally," Hanson wrote in his decision.

The judge also noted that the couple traveled to Vermont to register as domestic partners.

Barlow's lawyer, Frank Mylar, said the case is a parental rights issue.

"You have somebody who is a fit natural parent and somebody who claims that they should have rights to a child, even though they do not have any legal relation to the child either by blood or marriage," Mylar said.

Jones' lawyer, Lauren Barros, said the core issue is the best interest of the child. If local legal doctrine is overturned by the Utah Supreme Court, the decision could affect any unmarried person raising and caring for a non-biological child without the benefit of adoption.

"I think that the precedent around the country also supports the rights of people who have a special parent relationship with a child," Barros said.

Both sides have the assistance of advocacy organizations. Barlow's position is being supported by the Alliance Defense Fund, an Arizona-based conservative Christian organization. Jones is being supported by the National Center for Lesbian Rights in California.

Members of the Utah Legislature and the American Civil Liberties Union are paying attention to the case. There are indications that state lawmakers might introduce legislation dealing with "in loco parentis," which is Latin for "instead of a parent."

The possibility of winning before the Utah Supreme Court only to have the Legislature step in alarms Jones. She said there were family members, doctors, lawyers and many others involved in the birth and raising of the girl. "To all of a sudden to think that you're just going to be written off as a roommate and that I'm just some stranger trying to take away her child," Jones said.

Barlow said she doesn't want anything to do with Jones. Barlow said the dispute has been hard on her daughter. Barlow and the girl have moved to Texas.

"I feel as if my rights have been stripped away," Barlow said. "After a fleeting three-year relationship, I feel I'm now being prevented from taking care of her; I have to sit back and watch her suffer."

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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