The sad passing of Sharon Bottoms Mattes, 48, in January this year shone a spotlight on LGBT+ rights in the 21st century, and how far attitudes and family law have changed abroad and in the UK.
In what was a terrible example of the injustice to same-sex couples and their children is the American 1994 case involving Mattes, who lost custody of her son after the court ruled that she was an unfit mother because she was in a same-sex relationship. The details of this case are as shocking today as they were at the time.
In the UK, societal attitudes towards same-sex parents has changed considerably over the past 25 years. Thank goodness, because this has been both to the benefit of couples, children and the emotional welfare of other family members.
Yet family law is struggling to keep up with what some have deemed to be the ‘modern family’, and unfortunately prejudice and inequality still remains for LGBT+ couples and parents.
Of course, in the last 25 years so much has changed. Civil partnerships were introduced in 2005. This was followed by same-sex marriage in 2014. This granted the same rights as married heterosexuals. This ended the appalling treatment same-sex couples had received. For those in a civil partnership or same- sex marriage who have a child both parents have parental responsibility. Yet there is still inequality that exists.
Same-sex married couples, unlike heterosexual spouses are unable to cite adultery as a ground for divorce.
Since 2005 unmarried couples were given the right to adopt. Equalities legislation passed in 2006 to ensure that there would be no discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation when going through the adoption process.
When it comes to surrogacy, same-sex couples can apply for a parental order if they have their child via a surrogate and one parent is genetically related to the child. If couples are not in a civil partnership or married they must be living as partners in an enduring family relationship if they wish to apply jointly.
Single parents have been able to apply since 3 January 2019. Yet our surrogacy law are dangerously behind when it comes to the needs of modern families, leaving couples vulnerable to exploitation or worse, losing their child.
It is important that family law keeps up with the needs of families today, and continues to progress so LGBT couples and their families hold equal rights.
Linda Lamb, Solicitor and Director at LSL Family Law
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