Court Restores Rights for Lesbian Mother

May 5, 1999 12:00 am

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TUPELO, MS — In a reassuring affirmation of the rights of lesbian and gay parents, a chancery court in Mississippi has struck down a discriminatory restriction on a lesbian mother’s right to visit her children, the American Civil Liberties Union said today.

Relying on a little noticed portion of a recent Mississippi Supreme Court decision, Chancellor William Griffin lifted the restriction that prohibited the mother, (referred to by her initials R.M.) from visiting her children “in the presence of any person with whom she engages in homosexual behavior or activity.”

“This ruling shows that the state supreme court’s decision in Weigand v. Houghton has put a stop to these burdensome and degrading visitation restrictions on lesbian and gay parents,” said Leslie Cooper, staff attorney for the ACLU’s Lesbian and Gay Rights Project and R.M.’s counsel.

The Weigand opinion has been widely criticized for affirming a trial court’s decision to leave a child in a violent home rather than grant custody to his gay father. However, in a less publicized portion of the opinion, the Court held that orders prohibiting lesbian and gay parents from visiting with their children in the presence of their same-sex partners are illegal unless there is evidence that the partner’s presence poses a threat of serious harm to the child. Chancellor Griffin did not find that R.M.’s partner posed any harm to the children, and therefore struck down the restriction on R.M.’s visitation.

“We are so relieved by the judge’s ruling because the restriction turned our lives upside down,” said R.M. “My partner and I share a home, which made the restriction especially burdensome. But what was worse was that the children were used to her being around the house, and I didn’t know how to explain to them why she couldn’t be there anymore.”

The ACLU said the ruling was a significant victory not only for gay and lesbian parents, but for the children involved.

“The restriction never served the children’s interests,” said Jack Williams of Dunbar Williams in Oxford, cooperating counsel with the ACLU. “In fact, it did just the opposite. Requiring this mother to keep a significant part of her life hidden from her children created a serious obstacle to the development of healthy mother-child relationships.”

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