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HBO Miniseries Covers Early New York Case on Lesbian Parents’ Rights

Over the past few decades, Americans in same-sex relationships have seen significant advances in their family law rights. A three-part miniseries on HBO shows how some of the rights that we take for granted now were not available even one generation ago. This detailed and personal documentary also offers a lesson to modern families about the importance of getting sound legal guidance when developing nontraditional parenting arrangements.

In “Nuclear Family,” filmmaker Ry Russo-Young tells the story of her mothers, Sandy Russo and Robin Young, longtime partners who sought to raise children together in the early 1980s. Same-sex marriage would not be legalized for decades, and other options such as surrogacy and adoption were denied to LGBT couples. So the New York women took the initiative to find sperm donors, both of whom were gay men from the San Francisco area. Sandy Russo gave birth to a daughter named Cade. Shortly after that, Robin Young gave birth to Ry.

All parties agreed that the women would raise the two girls as part of one family unit and that the biological fathers would have no role in their upbringing. No distinction was made between each daughter’s birth mother and their other mother. However, when the girls reached school age, they became curious about the men who helped to conceive them and the mothers arranged a meeting. After a short time, Cade’s biological father, Jack, faded from their lives due to personal problems. On the other hand, Tom Steel, Ry’s sperm donor and a prominent gay-rights lawyer, became closer to the family, joining them on numerous vacations, and bringing along his partner, Milton, and Milton’s son, Jacob.

The miniseries covers the fierce four-year court battle that erupted when Tom became closer with Ry and sought to establish legal paternity so that he could have visitation rights. As biological father, he claimed that he was entitled to play a significant role in Ry’s life, spend time alone with her and introduce her to his family as his daughter. Though Sandy had spent Ry’s entire life as one of her mothers, she was not married to Robin, and did not have any legal standing to take part in the case and wasn’t allowed to sit in the courtroom.

As Ry and her now-married mothers look back on the grueling court case, it is easy to see how different the world is for same-sex partners today who wish to wed and raise children together. Still, complicated issues involving parenting rights can arise when surrogacy, sperm donation or some other nontraditional method of conception is used.

By consulting with an experienced family law attorney at Jakubowski, Robertson, Maffei, Goldsmith & Tartaglia, LLP, you can learn about the steps you should take to avert legal conflicts like the one depicted in “Nuclear Family.” Our firm serves clients throughout Nassau and Suffolk counties.