Court sidesteps ruling on rights of gay parent

October 27, 1994|By Sandy Banisky | Sandy Banisky,Sun Staff Writer

A Maryland appeals court has avoided ruling on whether a gay parent's visits with his children can be restricted because of his "homosexual lifestyle" -- an opinion that disappointed the man's lawyers, who wanted a clear decision that supported gay rights.

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals sent the case back to the Prince George's County Circuit Court, asking the court to clarify its reasons for restricting David North's visits with his three daughters. Mr. North, a Baptist minister, is HIV-positive.

But the court did not give clear guidance on how the issue of Mr. North's homosexuality should be handled.

"They ducked it," said Gerald Solomon, a Greenbelt attorney who represents Mr. North. The opinion, he said, "gave little direction to the lower courts for how to deal with this issue."

The court did say in a footnote, however, that Mr. North's visitation rights could not be restricted just because he is infected with the AIDS virus, unless it was shown that the children's health was in danger.

Lawyers for Mr. North, the North children and several gay-rights groups had said the case was important because Maryland's courts have never ruled on whether visits can be restricted when one parent is homosexual.

The lawyers argued that visits can be limited only if the parent's sexual orientation is shown to be harming the children.

Stuart Comstock-Gay, of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, said, "We would have liked for the court to resolve the issue. Whether or not you are homosexual and have a homosexual lifestyle is not important in custody cases. We need to get this resolved once and for all."

David and Kathryn North married in 1982. He did not tell her he was gay and secretly having sex with men. In 1991, he tested positive for acquired immune deficiency syndrome virus and moved into the home of a family friend.

The two men began a gay relationship but promised the court that they would keep their "homosexual lifestyle" private when the children visited and not display affection in front of them. But the Circuit Court restricted Mr. North's visits with the girls, saying it could not trust Mr. North to conceal his "lifestyle" during overnight visits. Mr. North appealed.

In its ruling, the Court of Special Appeals said that the lower court's reasoning behind the limit on visitation was "arbitrary" and must be reconsidered.

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