Metro Morning

Cy and Ruby's Law demands more parental rights for LGBTQ couples

When a woman married to a woman has a baby, she is not automatically a parent if they use a known sperm donor. Cy and Ruby's Law aims to change that.

Mothers must wait up to two years to be legally declared parents

Left to Right: Lawyer Joanna Radbord, MPP Cheri Di Novo, and Kirsti Mathers McHenry, Cy Mathers McHenry and Ruby Cecilia Mathers McHenry, all of whom are fighting for LGBTQ parental rights.

When woman married to a woman has a baby, she is not automatically a parent if they use a known sperm donor.

Instead, after the child is born, lawyers are hired, a court date is set, and the non-birth mother chooses whether to adopt her child or ask the court to declare that she is a parent.

Cy and Ruby's Law aims to change that. It's a new bill demanding legal rights for LGBTQ parents in Ontario, meaning parental rights would be easier to obtain for same sex, trans and non-gender binary couples.

The bill, being proposed at Queen's Park this week, is named after Cy Jerome Mathers McHenry, Ruby Cecilia Mathers McHenry and Jennifer Mathers McHenry, a family that first fought the way the province treats LGBTQ couples. MPP Cheri DiNovo took up the cause in the legislature.

One of the bills proponents is Sarah Liss, a Toronto writer and one of two mothers of a toddler.

She told Metro Morning LGBTQ parents have to go through a legal process to obtain parental rights because of the wording in the current law.

"It says that there is a 'father/other and a mother,'" she explained.

In the case of two women having a child together using a donor, the process is complex.

"If an LGBTQ family does not know the donor, they can put the second parent as 'other'. But if they do know the donor, they cannot legally do that," said Liss. "They must leave 'other' blank and begin a legal process for that second parent to obtain rights."

That legal process is a months-long ordeal that can be stressful for all involved.

Once the process to claim parental rights begins, the donor has a two-month window to change their mind about their parental rights.

In the meantime, the law dictates that all three parties — in Liss's case, her, her wife and their donor — get separate legal council.

For Sarah, the process lasted from April to October 2014.

Cy and Ruby's Law, as it's proposed, would change language in the current law, striking the need for "mother" and "father".

"For trans individuals, this acknowledges their right to determine how they identify," said Liss. "For example, a trans man who gives birth may not want to be labeled as 'mother.'"

It will include protection for donors — like Sarah's — to prevent child support claims.

It also will give legal rights to all parents regardless of biological involvement in conception, right from birth. That means donors will not be able to change their mind after the baby is born.

'Scary' wait for parental rights

Liss said the six-month process to be legally recognized as a parent of her baby were "scary."

"You never know if the donor will change their mind in that window," she said.

Liss knew her donor well, but she also knew "people are human and you never know."

Also, if her wife had died in child birth, she would have had zero legal rights over their child. "That was terrifying," said Liss.

The new law would allow both parents, or multiple parents, like gay and lesbian couples who co-parent, to take active roles and have legal rights from the beginning.

"It would cut through the discrimination LGBTQ couples currently face regarding this issue," said Liss. "It would prevent the stress and crazy legal fees that go along with having kids through a known sperm donor."