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Lesbian couples sue Tennessee over definition of 'parent'

When a married heterosexual woman is pregnant, her husband is automatically presumed to be the other parent of her child under the law -- even if there's evidence to the contrary. Overcoming that presumption is actually no little task and the subject of many legal actions.

When a married lesbian is pregnant, her wife does not enjoy that same legal presumption -- which could have a profound effect on the wife's legal custody rights to the child in the future, should the couple divorce or the birth mother die.

Four lesbian couples are taking aim at the new state law responsible for the difference. The law's sponsors insist that it was unrelated to the rights of same-sex couples -- an assertion that opponents consider to be absurd since those are the only people affected by the law.

The new law restricts words like "father" and "husband" or "mother" and "wife" to their ordinary meanings -- leaving no room for interpretation in a modern context and a nation that now recognizes same-sex marriages as legal.

The relationship between this new state law in Tennessee and same-sex marriage rights seems particularly transparent since it was pushed into being by a group of conservative lawmakers just as the parental rights of divorced lesbian were being decided in a divorce case within the state.

Over heavy opposition by conservatives, the family court judge granted the woman the rights traditionally assigned to the "husband and father" anyhow, but the new law was signed into being just days later.

However, the new law clearly conflicts with other state laws requiring gender-neutral interpretations of such words as "husband" and "father." Federal laws also now generally require judges to assign a gender-neutral meaning to such language -- which makes it easier to work through legal issues without rewriting every law on the books.

Should the law remain in place, experts predict it could produce a firestorm of unexpected issues. Some laws, for example, use the term "foreman," a word that is generally taken to be inclusive of women in current terminology. It's natural meaning, however, could be interpreted to exclude females from that role. Other such potential issues abound.

If you have a child custody concern, don't hesitate to get the legal assistance you need.

Source: The Aquila Report, "Married Lesbians Sue Tennessee Over Spousal Definitions," Kiley Crossland, June 08, 2017

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