Lesbian Mom Loses Parental Rights to Sperm Donor: A Cautionary Tale for LGBTQ+ Parents
At the time of their son’s conception, Kris Williams and Rebekah Wilson (a lesbian couple in Oklahoma) were in love and seeking to grow their family the best way they knew how. They chose a sperm donor, got married, and put both of their names on their son’s birth certificate. But, what they did wasn’t enough to protect the parental rights of both moms.
Rebekah blogged about her growing family, and the couple’s decision to use a known sperm donor. In making that decision, Kris and Rebekah thoughtfully considered the voices of other Donor Conceived People. They sought resources like We Are Donor Conceived and the Donor Conceived Best Practices and Connections Facebook Group. These groups generally advocate for children to grow up with meaningful connections to their genetic family (their parents’ donors). So, Kris and Rebekah sought a donor that was willing to be involved.
They choose Harlan Vaughn, who also blogged about his decision to donate. He described the situation, saying “We joined forces to make this, to make them moms – and I’ll be known as the bio dad as soon as it develops to that level of understanding and questioning. It’s a new journey for me – and for all of us. And while it won’t materially affect my life all that much, it’s certainly changed my heart.”
What nobody anticipated at the time of their son’s conception and birth is that Kris and Rebekah would separate and Harlan would seek parental rights to the child born from this arrangement. And an Oklahoma court would agree. This week, Judge Lynn McGuire stripped Kris Williams, of parental rights, instead awarding parental rights to sperm donor, Harlan Vaughn. You can read the full ruling here.
How can you protect yourself?
If you plan to grow your family through gamete donation, consider these three things to make sure you’re protected:
1. Know Your State Law and Get Legal Counsel Before Entering Into a Known Donor Agreement
Every state’s law’s on donor conception is different. What is legal in one state may not be in another. Before you move forward using a known sperm donor (especially in an at-home setting) it is absolutely critical that you understand your state’s laws.
Hire an attorney that is familiar with Assisted Reproductive Technology. If you are in Illinois, Pineapple Law can assist you. If you’re in another state, find an attorney that is licensed in your state and knows the relevant law. You can find a directory of qualified attorneys through the Academy of Adoption & Assisted Reproduction Attorneys.
2. Adopt Your Own Child (‘Second Parent Adoption’)
Yes, you read that correctly. If you are the non-gestating parent and are not biologically connected to your child, doing a second parent adoption is the surest way to protect your parental rights across all 50 states.
This is precisely the type of hoop that most heterosexual couples would never have to jump through. After all, there is a presumption of paternity that a woman’s husband is the father to her child in all 50 states. However, many states (including Oklahoma) still use gendered language and fail to apply the same presumption of parentage for same sex couples where donor gametes are used.
3. Advocate for Change
Donor conceived people have generally been advocating for open relationships between donors and raising parents so that donor conceived children can grow up knowing their genetic heritage. However, movement towards that objective is hampered when courts interpret such open relationships as a basis for invalidating the intent for donors to be donors and intended parents to be parents.
If you have it in you, advocate for change in your state. I hope for the day that all parents, regardless of their sexual orientation, can be assured that they have the legal right to parent their own children.