Was ruling protective or homophobic? Gay parent: Judge Rushworth seemed to focus unduly on father's homosexuality.

September 11, 1997

THE COURT OF Special Appeals is being asked to overturn rigid visitation restrictions that Anne Arundel Judge Lawrence H. Rushworth imposed last year on a father who is homosexual. The question before the court is whether the acrimonious ruling reflects evidence that the father's behavior -- sexual or otherwise -- was harmful to the children, or whether the ruling reflects personal prejudice against gays.

The facts of this case -- which attorneys for the father recently appealed and which gay activists have referred to the state panel that investigates improper judicial conduct -- indicate that the judge may have relied too much on personal bias.

Until the judge's ruling, homosexuality does not appear to have played much of a role in this law suit. The mother did not seek restrictions related to the father's sexual orientation. This contrasts to a well-known Virginia case in which a grandmother sought custody of her grandchild because her daughter lived with another woman. Homosexuality was the issue there. In the Anne Arundel case, the judge seems to have made it an issue.

Perhaps he was concerned about testimony that showed the 9-year-old son felt conflicted about his father's boyfriend. The courts are not excessively old-fashioned if they question the effect a parent's nonmarital relationships might have on a child.

The problem with this ruling is that it fixates on gay relationships rather than illicit relationships of any ilk. It bars visits from any nonmarital partners the gay father might have, but makes no rules for the heterosexual mother.

This is unfair; a parent's liaison with a partner of the opposite sex can upset children, too. Most extraordinarily, the ruling seeks not merely to shield the children from their father's intimate relationships but from "anyone having homosexual tendencies or such persuasions."

Such homophobic attitudes are being upheld in some state courts, thrown out in others. There is no evidence that gay parents are by definition less caring or less capable parents, that they transmit their preferences to their offspring or that children are necessarily happier if they pretend a gay parent's partner does not exist. Sexual orientation, by itself, is a poor measure of parental fitness.

Pub Date: 9/11/97

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