Last edited: February 14, 2005

Alabama Court Removes Child from Lesbian Mother

Associated Press, June 26, 1998

MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- The Alabama Supreme Court, overturning an appeals panel, has removed a child from the custody of her homosexual mother, ruling that the woman exposed her daughter to a lifestyle that is illegal in Alabama.

The 7-0 decision authored by Justice Champ Lyons found that the child's best interests would be better served in a home with her father and his new wife.

The Supreme Court's ruling Friday said Jefferson County Circuit Judge Ralph Ferguson applied the correct legal standard by removing the young girl from a mother who was living with another woman in an "open lesbian relationship."

The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals had reversed Ferguson's order, holding that the father didn't prove the mother's conduct was having a "substantial detrimental effect" on the child.

But the high court said there was no need to prove there was a substantial detrimental effect, only that the child's interests were better served in the father's home.

"While the evidence shows that the mother loves the child and has provided her with good care, it also shows that she has chosen to expose the child continuously to a lifestyle that is 'neither legal in this state, nor moral in the eyes of most of its citizens,’" Lyons wrote, quoting a previous court decision.

A 1975 Alabama statute proclaims all homosexual conduct to be criminal. Earlier this year, the state enacted a law that banned same-sex marriages.

At the time of the 1993 divorce, the father gave up custody knowing the mother was involved in a lesbian relationship, but with the understanding she would keep it discrete and not let the child know about it.

The father later remarried. During visits to his house, the girl told her dad that her mother and companion were sleeping in the same bed together. That prompted the father to sue for custody.

Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which helped argue the case on the mother's behalf, said the mother essentially lost custody because she was honest about her relationship.

"What's unique about the case is that it doesn't appear to hold that a lesbian or gay parent is always disqualified from custody," Ms. Kendell said in a telephone interview from her San Francisco office. "Rather, it enforces upon those parents that they live a lie -- that they not live their lives with integrity or be honest with their children about being gay."

The decision cited testimony from several psychologists, who had differing opinions on where the child should live, but all agreed the girl had a good home relationship with her mother and her partner.

The Christian Family Association, an Alabama group that has promoted fundamentalist Christian positions, said that was no substitute for a traditional family environment.

"The Supreme Court has placed the girl with a real family," said spokesman Dean Young. "People aren't fooled. People can say a family is whatever they want to, but God said a man and a woman would come together to start a family, not two women or two men."

The opinion was signed by Chief Justice Perry Hooper Sr and by Justices Hugh Maddox, Reneau Almon and Gorman Houston. Justices Mark Kennedy and Harold See agreed with the result, while Justices Janice Shores and Ralph Cook did not participate in the decision.

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