Last edited: April 28, 2005

Gay Father Appeals Custody Ruling

Court Forced Montgomery Man’s Partner to Move Out of Home

Washington Post, February 3, 2005

By Jennifer Lenhart, Washington Post Staff Writer

A gay Montgomery County father is trying to overturn a court order that forced his partner to move out of their shared house as a condition for retaining custody of his son.

The order initially was issued in an Alexandria family court in 2002, before the men moved to separate apartments in Rockville. Now attorneys for the father, [name removed at the request of Lambda Legal], have appealed to Maryland courts to declare the custody order unconstitutional.

“If there is no evidence of any problem with a gay or lesbian partner being present in the home, the court should not interfere in those private relationships,” said Susan Sommer, supervising attorney with New York-based Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund.

Sommer’s group, working with the National Center for Lesbian Rights to represent [the father], is basing its case on a U.S. Supreme Court decision voiding a Texas anti-sodomy law similar to current law in Virginia.

“Part of what we are arguing is that . . . the very foundations of the Virginia consent order are now recognized to be unconstitutional,” Sommer said.

A Montgomery County circuit judge dismissed the case last year. On Monday, though, attorneys filed a motion with the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.

The boy, now 12 and living in a Rockville apartment with his father, spent his first four years with both parents, who emigrated together from Sweden. After their divorce, he lived for 5 1/2 years with his father and partner [name removed], [the Father] said. [The Father], a hearing-impaired archivist at Gallaudet University, responded to questions in writing.

“At the time we were happy and thought we would be happy like everyone who has family,” [the Father] wrote, recalling his former neighborhood and its sports fields and parks.

“Our happy life was smashed in the result of the Virginia court’s ruling. I didn’t understand why my ex-wife had done this against us, especially her own son. She knew that we had lived as a family until the doom day.”

He said he and his former wife, [name removed], initially worked out custody without going to court. But when [the Mother] moved to Miami in 2002 for professional opportunities, each parent filed for custody, according to attorneys and briefs filed in the proceedings.

[The Mohter], a sign-language interpreter who is not hearing-impaired, does not intend to let her son live in the same house with the man who broke up her 12-year marriage, said her attorney, Patrick Stiehm.

“The partner, who was a friend of hers, was engaged behind her back in a gay love affair with her husband,” Stiehm said. “This person in her mind was trying to displace her as a mother. It would be a terrible influence on her son when he [the partner] has affected the family the way he has.”

But [the Father] argued that his partner of nine years is an integral part of the boy’s life.

“[The partner] had spent time with our son with different activities, comforted him while I was not around, like another parent does,” [the Father] wrote. “Our son cried every night in the beginning and asked me why [the partner] moved out. I struggled to find a word to explain [to] him why this happened.”

The Virginia family court judge found [the Father] to be the more fit of the two parents and gave him custodial rights. The mother was awarded liberal visitation, meaning her visits did not have to be scheduled or overseen by the court. But the judge also agreed to [the Mother's] condition that [the partner] move out.

After the marriage dissolved, [the Mother] went through a period of unemployment, which contributed to the decision not to award her custody of the child, Stiehm said.

The mother has since become employed in Florida’s public schools, remarried and taken her son on several vacations to visit family in Sweden, Stiehm said.

The father and his partner sold the house they owned in Alexandria and began renting separate apartments in Rockville.

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