Kris Williams was a mother for two years. That is, until an Oklahoma judge decided on Monday that her parental status was void and transferred rights to the child’s sperm donor.
In 2019, Williams and her ex-wife Rebekah Wilson decided to have a baby, and found a sperm donor on a paternity website who would make their dreams of parenthood a reality. The two married while Wilson was pregnant and then raised their son — who is being referred to as “W” for his privacy — together for two years.
After the couple had a nasty split in 2021, Wilson moved in with W’s sperm donor, Harlan Vaughn. She claimed Williams was not W’s mother, and Oklahoma County District Court Judge Lynne McGuire agreed.
In most states, married couples are presumed to be parents of any children born during their marriage. But for LGBTQ+ couples in many states, including Oklahoma, the non-birthing parent has to adopt the child. It is a costly, time-consuming, energy-draining, downright-demeaning process that straight couples are not subject to. Williams reportedly knew she needed to adopt W to establish parental rights, but chose not to, testifying she didn’t believe the system was fair.
“I don’t feel like we should have to adopt our own children,” Williams told the 19th. “If I was a man, then nobody could come back and you know, question whether that child was mine or not, after they’re the age of 2.”
In May 2022, Williams’ name was removed from W’s birth certificate. She told The 19th she “instantly started shaking” upon hearing the news.
“I mean pure terror, as a queer person, to be erased,” she said.
Williams’ name was reinstated in June, but on Feb. 13, McGuire ruled that because Oklahoma’s parentage act went into effect before the marriage equality act was passed in 2015, Williams was not legally the mother.
“[The Oklahoma parentage act] does not take into account same-sex marriage,” McGuire wrote. “And there is no presumption that the wife of the mother is automatically presumed the parent of a child born during the marriage.”
This goes against the Supreme Court ruling in Pavan v. Smith, which found that states could not treat queer couples differently than their heterosexual peers. So, if straight couples had a baby while married and are presumed to be parents, the same should be true for queer couples. Nevertheless, laws around the subject still vary between states. It could be (and was) argued that Williams is at fault for not filing for adoption — but once again, that is not something partners in heterosexual marriages have to do.
In a statement to The 19th, Wilson and Vaughn said, “We remain focused exclusively on our child’s protection and well-being. We are grateful for the court’s validation.”
Wilson previously alleged abuse from Williams and was granted an “emergency victim protective order” during the couple’s divorce proceedings that barred Williams from contacting W or Wilson. Williams denies these claims and says it is irrelevant to the question of parentage.
After all, if there was abuse within a heterosexual marriage, the abuser would not immediately lose their parentage, although they may lose custody.
Legal experts, including attorney Hanna Roberts from the Oklahoma ACLU, said that if Williams loses, it will set a “pretty bad precedent” in Oklahoma “and possibly beyond.”
“I think that this is just the first time that there has been such an adverse ruling that is so contrary to equal protection,” she told The 19th in May 2022. “It’s gotten the attention because same sex-couples get divorced all the time.”
Just like heterosexual couples! The double standard is that straight couples battle for custody after a divorce, while LGBTQ+ couples may have to battle for custody and parentage.
Williams’ attorney Robyn Hopkins said they will appeal McGuire’s decision and that she is “disappointed to be an Oklahoman.”
“I feel like this is our community’s cry for help and we need all hands on deck,” Hopkins said. “I’m comparing it to a natural disaster.”
These celebrity LGBTQ+ families are proving that love is love.
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