OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) — LGBTQ+ experts around the country are closely watching a divorce and child custody case in Oklahoma County because it could have implications in other states.
The complicated legal battle involves a lesbian couple and a sperm donor who is now asking the court to be the legal father.
Kris Williams and Rebekah Wilson dated five years before they married. Williams remembers they talked about having children from the very beginning.
The women were both LGBTQ+ advocates, regularly working together to champion the rights of gay and lesbian youth in Oklahoma. Both were well-known for their compassion for the rights of lesbian couples.
In 2019, they married.
Williams and Wilson formed a blended family: two moms, Kris’ teen son and a baby boy.
“That was my dream,” Williams remembered. “My dream came true.”
Wilson carried the child, conceived by artificial insemination from a contracted sperm donor on the app Just A Baby.
“There was a contract here, and the contract was done in Texas at a conference between the sperm donor and the biological mother,” said family law attorney Robyn Hopkins, who represents Williams.
On the day of the baby’s birth, Williams cut the umbilical cord. The Oklahoma birth certificate lists “mother and mother.”
“It’s pretty simple — black and white,” said Hopkins. “I’m not sure why we are getting caught up in the gray.”
Late last year, the marriage fell apart. Wilson refused to allow Williams to see their young son. She filed a victim protection order and claimed abuse.
Then, Wilson used a loophole in the law to have her wife removed from the baby’s birth certificate.
“Whenever you are a married couple, the child is presumed to be of both of the mother and the father,” said ACLU Oklahoma’s Hanna Roberts. “So, under these facts, if it had been a married heterosexual couple, there wouldn’t be a question as to who the father and mother were designated by the court.”
Oklahoma County Judge Lynne McGuire ruled Williams, the non-gestational mother, “failed to establish parental rights.”
Even though she was on the birth certificate, the judge ruled Williams should have adopted the child.
According to Oklahoma State Statute Title 10, a child born to a married couple is presumed to be the baby of the mother and father, regardless of biological connection.
In Oklahoma, many consider it a gray area of the law when it’s a case of same-sex parents.
“The statute is written relating to mother and father, and so that’s part of the reason why this mother was unable to be successful in her initial claim with the court,” said family law expert Stacey Wiebelt. “In this instance, I’m not sure that the judge had any other choice but to enter the ruling that she did.”
Many states have adopted gender-neutral language in this area of law. Oklahoma has not.
“I think it’s absurd that to us, LGBTQ+ parents are asked to jump through these additional hoops,” said Freedom Oklahoma’s Nicole McAfee. “It’s not fair to us LGBTQ+ parents. But, it’s also not fair for kids to know that at any point in time the courts may dismiss their parental relationships.”
Freedom Oklahoma calls the ruling a clear case of discrimination in the law.
Wilson declined to answer questions about the case or about her legal strategy. Her attorney, Seth Von Tungeln, also declined to comment on the case.
In court filings, Wilson has claimed her wife has no standing as the baby’s legal mother because Williams didn’t adopt the boy after birth.
Every time the couple meets in court, the law seems to favor the gestational parent.
“I spent over two years of my life with my child, bonding with him even when he was inside (Wilson) and growing. There is a connection there, and for the courts not to respect that and honor that is mind-blowing to me,” Williams said.
Earlier this year, Harlan Vaughn, the sperm donor, filed a motion to intervene in the divorce case. He has petitioned the court to be named the legal father of the baby boy.
According to Williams, Vaughn had no contact with the family or the baby until the boy was almost 20 months old.
According to court records, Wilson and Vaughn signed a sperm donor contract before he donated for artificial insemination.
Brande Sanders, who is friends with both moms, confirmed to KFOR that she was there in late 2018 when Wilson and Vaughn signed the sperm donor contract. The notary also confirmed to KFOR that Wilson and Vaughn notarized the donor contract in which he relinquished all parental rights to the child.
“The intent was very clear to all of us that were present,” Sanders said. “There was a contract that had been printed out. We went down (to Dallas, Texas). We met the donor and his boyfriend. It was very clear that (Williams and Wilson) wanted to put protections in place for the donor to not be able to go and seek any type of of rights or relationship.”
The case is making headlines around the country, with 13 other families watching very closely.
Fourteen couples belong to a private Facebook page called “HV Littles,” which is administered by Vaughn.
The page is for couples who are recipients of Vaughn’s donated sperm.
Vaughn appears to have helped 14 couples in the group get pregnant with babies born in the past two years, between 2019 and 2021.
In court filings, Wilson claims she is now living with Vaughn, co-parenting the baby boy for the past six months.
Williams hasn’t seen her son in seven months.
The judge on Wednesday ruled in favor of Williams, deciding she will remain on the birth certificate.
The judge also ruled that a guardian ad litem – attorney for the child – will be provided. The three parties – gestational mom, non-gestational mom and sperm donor – will come together to decide which attorney will be given to the child. If they cannot decide, the judge will.
KFOR has requested to speak with Wilson; her attorney; Vaughn, or his attorney, Rachel Morris, but they have all refused to comment on the case.