Lesbian couple win parenting 'rights': Mary Braid examines a landmark ruling that has provoked an outcry from MPs

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A LESBIAN couple have been granted joint recognition as parents of a 22-month-child in a landmark ruling at the High Court in Manchester.

The couple, aged 25 and 28, have lived together for three years. They decided they wanted a child soon after meeting. The younger woman became pregnant by a male friend but wanted her lesbian partner to have parental recognition.

On Friday, Mr Justice Douglas Brown, sitting in private in chambers, ended a year of court hearings by granting a joint residence order to the women under the 1989 Children Act. It entitles the biological mother's partner joint parental responsibility for the little boy. Any change in the situation - including withdrawal of the order - would involve a return to court.

Jai Penna, the solicitor who acted for the mother's partner, said yesterday that she believed it was the first ruling of its kind. 'In essence it gives the woman's partner recognition as a parent. It means that in decisions involving education and health she is the child's parent. I expect other lesbian couples are considering similar action at the moment and this will encourage them.'

The child's biological mother, who has two other children, said last night that she had become pregnant very quickly after reaching an agreement to have sexual intercourse once a month with a friend's brother. He wanted no involvement in the baby's life and no money was involved.

'We planned the baby and we had a stable relationship so I thought it would be easy to get legal recognition. In fact it was quite a hassle and involved six court hearings,' she said.

'We really wanted joint responsibility. I was brought up in care and I was worried about what would happen to the baby if something happened to me. I didn't want him taken away from my partner. Then there were simple things like visits to the doctor and the dentist. We are delighted at the outcome.'

Ms Penna said the ruling gave the mother's partner rights similar to those enjoyed by an unmarried father. But while unmarried fathers could apply for parental responsibility orders, that path was not open to lesbians. Before the Children Act lesbian couples had no way of obtaining joint parental recognition.

A release agreed by the judge said that he had made the order in respect of the two women with 'the child's welfare as his first and paramount consideration and that the evidence pointed overwhelmingly to the making of an order'. The Official Solicitor, appointed to act for the child, had supported a joint residence order.

Paula Tyler, the solicitor representing the child's mother, said she already had another similar case awaiting action.

However, the case provoked strong reactions at Westminster yesterday. Emma Nicholson, Tory MP for Devon West and Torridge, said: 'I'm immensely unhappy when adult sexual behaviour inflicts a distorted lifestyle on children. Every child is born of a mother and a father and I believe strenuously that every child deserves a mother and a father.'