Renee Harmon is a mother. She raised three children over ten years with her former partner, Tammy Davis. And when their 19-year relationship ended, so did Harmon’s relationship with her children. She hasn’t seen the children in two years. But she has seen a lot of courtrooms and paperwork and disappointment. This week, the State Supreme Court denied her the right to even present evidence in court so she could fight for custody of her kids.
This situation would never happen with straight married couples. In the event of a divorce, there are plenty of laws and processes that allow both parents access and responsibility to their children.
But there are no laws in our state that protect the children of same-sex couples. Harmon was never even recognized as a legal parent to the three children she helped plan and raise. In Michigan, though there’s no law explicitly against same-sex parent adoption, there is a widespread ban on the practice. Judges have interpreted state law (incorrectly) to mean that same-sex parents cannot adopt, even though such discrimination is written nowhere in our statutes. As a result, many children in Michigan with same-sex parents only have one legal parent.
And if those parents split apart, the legal parent has all the rights and responsibilities. This is what happened with Harmon’s family.
Michigan courts won’t even allow Harmon to present evidence showing she acted as a parent, which is a shocking affront to this community’s values and rights. There have been many cases that prove “de facto” parenting. These cases established custody rights (or child support payments) between heterosexual couples who were never married. Despite these previous cases, Harmon isn’t even allowed to present her case before a court in our state. The only difference is that she was in a same-sex relationship, not a heterosexual relationship.
Harmon is a brave woman who is soldiering on. Because she has been denied the right to present her case in the state courts, she is taking her case to the federal courts.
Harmon is fighting for rights that our entire community does not have. Harmon is not the only parent in the state without the right to care for his or her children. But she is choosing to be the one who fights the battle.
This means that we are the ones who must give her our support.
One of Harmon’s lawyers, Dana Nessel, has discussed with BTL her difficulties in securing support from our LGBT community centers and foundations. This we find embarrassing, and – as we stated in our editorial last week – shockingly shameful. Not only would these organizations not support Harmon financially, but they wouldn’t even voice public support of her cause or encourage their members to help her.
Harmon has been fundraising, and she will continue to keep on raising money to launch a new round of arguments in the federal courts this time. We must support her with our time and money. If she wins, she secures rights for our entire community. If she loses, all of the children in our community lose.
Do the right thing. Support Harmon. Support her right, and our right, to have a family. Do it for her children, and do it for all the children in this community.