The decision, which comes a year after the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for same-sex marriage across the country, will stand as a key precedent in similar disputes in Michigan involving children who were raised by gays and lesbians in relationships that ended.
Michelle Lake and Kerri Putnam were together for 13 years until 2014 but didn’t marry during that time. Lake said she deserves to enjoy the rights that would have been granted to her if they had been married.
Putnam gave birth to a boy, now 8, during their relationship, but she no longer allows Lake to see him.
“We simply do not believe it is appropriate for courts to retroactively impose the legal ramifications of marriage onto unmarried couples several years after their relationship has ended,” the appeals court said. “That, in our view, is beyond the role of the judiciary.”
The court said Lake has no parental rights under Michigan law because the boy wasn’t born during a marriage.
“This is true whether the couple involved is a heterosexual or a same-sex couple,” it said.
The court overturned decisions by a Washtenaw County judge, who had awarded parenting time to Lake. Judge Darlene O’Brien last fall said the best interests of the child should be considered.
Lake’s attorney, Jay Kaplan of the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, said the appeals court ruling is “devastating.”
“This young boy had two moms,” he said. “The end result is (Lake) can be unilaterally erased from his life. … It’s the collateral damage of all those years of discriminating against same-sex couples.”
Putnam’s attorney, Anne Argiroff, didn’t immediately respond to a phone message seeking comment.
Appeals court Judge Douglas Shapiro said there was no evidence that Lake and Putnam would have chosen marriage years ago if it had been legal in Michigan. He said the court might rule differently in a future case if there’s evidence that a same-sex couple clearly wanted to marry before 2015 but couldn’t because of the state’s ban on gay marriage.
“I believe the courts would be required to recognize the parental rights of the non-biological parent,” Shapiro wrote.