An Oklahoma county judge on Monday ruled to transfer a lesbian woman’s parental rights to the child’s sperm donor, the 19th reports. Kris Williams and Rebekah Wilson married in 2019, while Wilson was pregnant through a sperm donor. The couple raised the child together, called W, for two years. But after separating in 2021, Wilson took the young child and moved in with their sperm donor, Harlan Vaughan.
Wilson alleged at the time that Williams had been abusive and was granted a protective order from Williams amid divorce proceedings, which was extended last summer. Williams has denied Wilson’s allegations.
Shortly after their split, Wilson argued in court that Williams wasn’t W’s mother. The Oklahoma judge, Lynne McGuire, agreed and removed Wilson from the child’s birth certificate. This is despite how, in most states, if children are born to a married couple, both are legally presumed parents of these children—at least that’s always been the case for heterosexual couples.
Last summer, McGuire reinstated Williams on W’s birth certificate, and Williams’ name remains on it. But on Monday, McGuire ruled on the issue of Williams’ parental rights and transferred them to Vaughan.
McGuire explained that because Oklahoma’s parentage law predates the Supreme Court’s ruling establishing a right to same-sex marriage, the state parentage law “does not take into account same-sex marriage, and there is no presumption that the wife of the mother is automatically presumed the parent of a child born during the marriage.” Further, McGuire determined that Williams had failed to adopt W despite “[knowing] that under Oklahoma law she needed to adopt the minor child to establish parental rights,” and therefore forfeited her parental rights to the sperm donor.
Williams’ lawyer, Robyn Hopkins, told Jezebel in a phone call that they’ll appeal the decision. She cited the Supreme Court’s ruling on Pavan v. Smith in 2015—at the same time as Obergefell v. Hodges—which says that it’s unconstitutional to treat same-sex couples differently from straight couples when determining parentage. Hopkins further connected McGuire’s decision to broader attacks on LGBTQ rights, especially in Oklahoma. “If you live in Oklahoma or other conservative states, it’s an all-out attack on our community right now, particularly lately with all the anti-trans bills,” she said. “Our entire community, out here in Oklahoma, is being hit really hard right now.”
In an interview with the local station KFOR, Hopkins asked “where the case law says that gay people have to adopt their own children.” She added, “Why do gay people have to have a home study and a background check to adopt their own children and pay upwards of a couple thousand dollars and go to court to make it official?”
Speaking to the 19th, Williams also questioned why “we should have to adopt our own children,” and argued, “If I was a man, then nobody could come back and you know, question whether that child was mine or not, after they’re the age of 2.” She told KFOR that McGuire’s decision “brings a lot of anger and emotion on me.”
The ruling is expected to have sharp implications for the already thorny issue of LGBTQ couples’ parental rights. Same-sex married couples, the Supreme Court said in 2015 with Pavan, should be presumed to be parents of children born during their marriage, just like straight couples. Despite this ruling from the Supreme Court, the 19th notes that laws around this still vary state-by-state.
But Hopkins argues the case is—or should be—“black and white.”
“Kris [Williams] is on the birth certificate of this child and they were married,” she explained to KFOR. She continued, “They were married. Marriage is legal. Same-sex marriage is legal in the state of Oklahoma. And they had a child. So, there’s a child of the marriage.”
In the 1990s, one lesbian couple, Sandra Russo and Robin Young, were forced to fight their sperm donor, a gay man named Tom Steel, in court after he sought and was eventually awarded parental rights over their child. Because the case took place back in the 90s, Russo and Young weren’t married. To this day, their case sends a chilling message about the lacking rights and legitimacy conferred upon same-sex couples and families. “I feel like this is our community’s cry for help and we need all hands on deck,” Hopkins told Jezebel. “I’m comparing it to a natural disaster.”