In legal victory, Ohio Supreme Court extends parental rights to same-sex couples

Feb 14, 2024

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) and American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Ohio in April 2023, submitted an amicus brief to the Ohio Supreme Court advocating for the rights of parents in same sex marriages. Through our brief, we demonstrated that children develop attachment relationships to their parents regardless of the parents’ marital status or biological connection. Severing this relationship without good cause is likely to cause the child significant harm and may damage the child’s social and emotional development. On January 19, 2024, the Ohio Supreme Court entered a decision extending parentage rights to same-sex couples who would have been married at the time of their child’s conception but for Ohio’s unconstitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

In the case before the Court, In re L.E.S., two women had a 12-year romantic relationship that pre-dated the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which held that bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional. Before Obergefell, Ohio prohibited same-sex marriage and did not provide a legal avenue for non-married, non-biological parents to establish parentage over their children. Despite this, the Ohio couple became engaged, held themselves out as married, and started a family using artificial insemination with an anonymous sperm donor. They had three children and raised them together until their relationship dissolved. Even after their romantic relationship ended, both women continued to parent their children. When the non-birthing mother filed a petition to establish her parental rights, the juvenile court ruled that she was not the children’s legal parent because she was neither biologically related to them nor married to their legal mother.

The question before the Ohio Supreme Court was whether the juvenile court should have considered whether the parties would have been married at the time of L.E.S.’s conception had Ohio recognized same-sex marriage. The Court found that Obergefell requires the juvenile court to consider whether the parents would have been married at the time of the child’s conception but for the state’s unconstitutional ban on same-sex marriage. Upon an affirmative finding, each parent is entitled to the full range of parental rights that stem from the marriage relationship.

NASW supports protecting the familial attachments between LGBTQ couples and their children and recognizes that these familial relationships are of the same strength, depth, and importance to the healthy development of children as the relationships of opposite-sex couples and their children. This decision affirms that non-biological parents in same-sex relationships are worthy of parental rights, and it benefits children whose emotional wellbeing is best served by maintaining the child-parent relationship.

NASW’s involvement in this case was coordinated by its Legal Defense Fund (LDF). Since 1972, the LDF has provided financial legal assistance and support for legal cases and issues of concern to NASW members and the social work profession. LDF supports educational projects and programs to improve the legal status and knowledge of the social work profession. Learn more about the LDF at www.socialworkers.org/About/Legal/Legal-Defense-Fund.

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