In June of 2015, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down same-sex marriage bans as unconstitutional, everybody knew the ruling would make waves in other realms of the law. One such area is child custody.
In 2014, Charlene Ramey separated from her same sex partner, Kimberly Sutton, and filed for parental rights and custody of their son. Shortly after Ramey submitted her petition, Sutton asked district Judge Howard Haralson to dismiss the case. Haralson granted the dismissal but Ramey was persistent and brought her case all the way to the state Supreme Court.
This is the court’s decision: Ramey’s relationship with the child was more than that of a nanny, friend or even a family member like an aunt or cousin. “On the contrary” wrote Justice Joseph Watt, “Ramey has been intimately involved in the conception, birth and parenting of their child, at the request and invitation of Sutton.”
He added: “Ramey has stood in the most sacred role as parent to their child and always has 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.”
Andrew J. Stephenson, a child custody lawyer, had this to say on the subject: “With this landmark US Supreme court ruling, the lower courts must take issues regarding same sex parenting more seriously and really focus on what’s best for the child. I believe the Oklahoma Supreme Court definitely made the correct decision, one that no doubt set a precedent for future cases.”
In the majority opinion, Watt continues: “In a separate, concurring opinion Justices James Winchester and Steven Taylor said the agreement between Ramey and Sutton to conceive and care for a child must also be considered. The court must first determine standing based on [an] agreement of the parties. Then and only then is best interest considered to determine custody or visitation.”
The Supreme Court’s ruling overturned the district court’s decision to dismiss Ramey’s case. She now has legal standing to continue to play a role in parenting her son.
The Oklahoma chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) had worked on the case with Ramey’s lawyer, Rhonda Telford Naidu, as they appealed the lower court’s rejection up through the state’s higher courts.
“I’m really proud of the Oklahoma Supreme Court for giving this case its day in court,” says Troy Stevenson, the executive director of Freedom Oklahoma, an LGBT rights organization. “The worst thing I can imagine is for a child to be ripped away from its mother.”
As for Ramey, well, she just seems happy to be able to call her son hers. “Today is an overwhelming day of emotion and joy,” she said hours after the ruling. “Today is relief. Today, our great state [of Oklahoma] recognized that I have been nothing but true as a mom to my son and our relationship. Today starts another chapter of hope. I love you, son.”