Sharon Kowalski, an adult woman who lived with her lesbian partner, Karen Thompson (plaintiff), was in an automobile accident that deprived her of the ability to walk and limited her capacities for speech and short-term memory. Kowalski’s family was unaware of her sexuality at the time of the accident. In March 1984, Thompson and Kowalski’s father, Donald Kowalski, both sought to be appointed Kowalski’s guardian. Thompson agreed to Mr. Kowalski’s appointment under the assumption that she would have visitation rights. In 1989, Mr. Kowalski was relieved of his guardianship obligations on account of personal medical issues. Thompson petitioned the trial court (defendant) to be named guardian. Her case was supported by 16 medical witnesses. No other person petitioned to be guardian but three witnesses opposed Thompson’s petition: Kowalski’s sister; a friend of Kowalski and the Kowalski family; and Karen Tomberlin, who was a family friend. None of the opposing witnesses spent much time with Kowalski or had any medical training. The trial court denied Thompson’s petition and awarded guardianship to Tomberlin, who had not petitioned for it and was unwilling to care for Kowalski outside of an institution. Thompson appealed.