A judge ruled in favor of a woman who sought parental rights to a boy and girl adopted by her former same-sex partner, a decision described as a first for Montana.
Michelle Kulstad sought joint custody of two children — an 8-year-old boy and a 5-year-old girl — adopted by Barbara Maniaci. In his ruling Monday, District Judge Ed McLean agreed.
"To discriminate further against Ms. Kulstad because of her sexual preference in this day and age is no different than telling a person to go to the back of the bus because of her skin color," McLean wrote.
Attorneys for both sides have said the same-sex parental rights trial was a first for the state, whose voters in 2004 rejected same-sex marriage by about a 2-to-1 margin.
McLean said Kulstad was a legal parent, even though Maniaci adopted the children — the boy in 2004 and the girl in 2006. The judge said Kulstad must receive joint decision-making authority in the children's lives, including their health care and spiritual upbringing.
Kulstad and Maniaci lived together in the Missoula area for 10 years, raising the children in tandem before ending the relationship in 2006, according to evidence presented at the non-jury trial in May.
Maniaci, who is now married, argued that she and her husband should be able to raise the children as they see fit. She said Kulstad was neither their adoptive parent nor a biological relative.
Austin R. Nimocks, who represented Maniaci, did not return a phone call seeking comment Monday. Nimocks also is senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative legal agency.
Kulstad said she was not listed the adoption records because it is illegal in Montana for same-sex couples to adopt.