Oklahoma Court Issues Major Same-Sex Parenting Ruling

by | November 19, 2015

By Nolan Clay

The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled Tuesday in a same-sex custody case that a mom gets a say in her son's life even if she isn't the biological parent.

Charlene Dawn Ramey had sought custody in 2014 of her son after she and her partner, Kimberly Sutton, separated. The two had been a couple for more than eight years. They never married. The boy is now 10.

An Oklahoma County judge in March dismissed Ramey's request, saying she had no standing.

"When the parent and step-parent separate or divorce there is no statutory provision for the step-parent to remain a part of the child's life," Special Judge Howard Haralson wrote in his dismissal. "What about a nanny who has more interaction with a child than the parents, will the nanny be able to assert rights to the child?"

The Supreme Court overturned that decision, giving Ramey standing to pursue a hearing on the best interests of the child.

"Ramey ... is not a mere 'third party' like a nanny, friend or relative, as suggested by the district court," Justice Joseph Watt wrote. "On the contrary, Ramey has been intimately involved in the conception, birth and parenting of their child, at the request and invitation of Sutton. Ramey has stood in the most sacred role as parent to their child and always been referred to as 'Mom' by their child. The community, school, medical providers and extended family have all known Ramey as the 'other parent,' all with the knowledge and mutual agreement of Sutton."

Sutton had sought to end all interaction between the boy and Ramey, court records show.

Ramey was represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma. "This opinion makes it clear that courts can't penalize children who have same-sex parents," ACLU legal director Brady Henderson said.

Ramey said of the decision, "Today starts another chapter of hope. I love you, Son."

The Supreme Court noted its decision applied to unmarried same-sex couples who entered into committed relationships, engaged in family planning and then shared in parental responsibilities.

The Supreme Court made clear that its decision did not extend any additional rights to step-parents, grandparents or others.

The Supreme Court did not have to address the parental rights of same-sex couples who married and then divorced. The rights of a divorcing same-sex couple are the same as those of a married man and woman who divorce.

(c)2015 The Oklahoman