Custody case involving lesbian pair is very messy

September 02, 1996|By Mike Littwin

THERE'S A new book being written by the Virginia judiciary. It's sort of like "Heather Has Two Mommies," except with a twist.

This one could be called: "Troy Has Two Mommies But He Can't See Them Because They're Lesbos."

Actually, according to a recent ruling by a Virginia circuit court judge, little Troy Doustou, 5 years old, can see his actual mommy -- every other weekend, and for one whole week in the summer. Troy can't see his mommy's lover, ever.

He can't talk to her, even on the phone.

She can't talk to him, even by e-mail.

No smoke signals. No Morse code. No contact whatsoever, as if she had a contagion of some kind, as if she carried typhus.

When Troy comes to visit his mommy's house, mommy's significant other, who shares the house, has to take a hike. Or there's no visit.

Why?

Because she's a lesbian. And so she must be, well, quarantined for the good of society, or at least society's children.

Lesbians have a place in America, of course. Usually, they're the sadistic wardens in women's prison movies. Or they head up some man-hating women's group you see at demonstrations chanting things like, "Hitler was a man, so how good could any of them be?"

The thought that many lesbians might be simply mommies -- who lead lives much like everyone else -- makes many people nervous.

Sharon Bottoms, Troy's mommy, is a lesbian. She lives with April Wade, who's a lesbian, too.

Three years ago, Sharon's mother, Kay Bottoms, went to court to get custody of Troy because she didn't want Troy growing up in a lesbian household. She won the first of what would be many cases, in part, because the judge ruled that Troy was living in a house where immorality was taking place. Apparently, there was oral sex happening in this house.

The judge didn't mention specifically whether he had ever engaged in oral sex, or any kind of sex, himself. In Virginia, as in many states, it is illegal for anyone, including heterosexual married couples, to have oral sex.

For three years, Sharon has been fighting to get Troy back. A few months ago, she gave up her fight -- for the time being. She gave it up because she wanted expanded visitation rights. And this is what she got: Troy, for the first time in years, can come to her house, every other weekend. So long as there's no trace of Wade.

As with many custody cases, this one is messy. In fact, it's messy even in the disorderly world of custody fights. Sharon Bottoms, we've learned, used to sleep around. She hit her son on the leg twice -- too hard. Kay Bottoms' live-in boyfriend, according to her daughter's testimony in court and on "Geraldo," molested Sharon as a girl. And so on.

Sharon Bottoms has appeared on "Geraldo," Larry King and has been interviewed by People. Kay Bottoms did "Sally Jesse Raphael."

Sharon Bottoms and Wade sold their story for $75,000 to be made into a TV movie of the week.

Yes, it's a very messy story, with much mudslinging, through many rounds of court cases, up to the Virginia Supreme Court and back down again. But the real issue, the one that has always recurred, is, as we like to say these days, sexual orientation.

A year ago, when the Virginia Supreme Court judges ruled against Sharon Bottoms, the majority noted that she spent welfare checks "to do her fingernails."

But then the judges, who voted 4-3 against her, got down to it: "We have previously said that living daily under conditions steming from active lesbianism in the home may impose a burden upon a child by reason of the 'social condemnation' attached to such an arrangement, which will inevitably affect the child's relationship with his 'peers and the community at large.' "

In other words, the judges were saying they didn't necessarily have a problem with lesbians. But, since other people might be prejudiced and hold it against the child, Troy should stay with the grandmother.

Which is interesting thinking. And I wonder how it would apply to interracial marriages. Or marriages of mixed religions.

Of course, there are laws forbidding discrimination on account of race. On account of religion. On account of disability. On account of age. On account of just everything but sexual orientation. You can be as bigoted as you want to if you stick to gays and lesbians.

Kent Willis is director of the Virginia ACLU, which has represented Sharon Bottoms for most of these three years. He says that Bottoms has been beaten down by the system and isn't sure if she wants to appeal again.

"I've never seen a clearer example of how prejudice ignores justice and undermines it," Willis is saying by phone from his Richmond office. "The moral is, I suppose, that where there is deep prejudice, it often prevails."

Pub Date: 9/02/96

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