Court ruling affirms gays' common humanity

November 02, 1997|By MICHAEL OLESKER

In its wisdom, Maryland's Court of Special Appeals last week instructed us on the new rules regarding children who visit overnight with a gay father and his lover. Maybe the court could next spare a few specific words on kids visiting heterosexual parents and their lovers.

The new ruling was considered cause for cheering among lots of civil liberties folks and gay rights organizations who found last year's original legal decision, by Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Lawrence H. Rushworth, to be homophobic and old-fashioned, plus harmful to Robert G. Boswell of Glen Burnie and his two elementary school-age children.

The kids live with their mom. That's apparently OK with Boswell, who separated from his wife, Kimberly Boswell, also of Glen Burnie in 1994. But, in seeking his own rights of visitation, he's also questioned why no restrictions have ever been placed on his ex-wife regarding any friends or lovers or live-in companions of hers, whatever their sexual persuasions.

So, in spring 1996, Boswell asked for the right to have the kids -- a boy and a girl -- visit him for overnight stays, even with his male companion in the house.

Judge Rushworth said no, and went even further. He forbade Boswell to meet with the children in the company of his partner or "anyone having homosexual tendencies or such persuasions."

Gay rights groups (among others) went ballistic -- a reasonable enough reaction. Judge Rushworth's ruling seemed to smack of ancient myths in which homosexuals not only had different sex drives than heteros, but uncontrollable ones, in which anyone in the surrounding area, most especially innocent children, would be vulnerable to attack.

That's not only a slanderous myth -- Anybody checked the military sex scandals lately? Yup, it's those wild and crazy heterosexuals again, pulling rank, taking advantage of vulnerable female recruits, still unable to rein in those famously uncontrollable heterosexual urges -- but it also one-dimensionalizes gays, robs them of all instincts but one.

Judge Rushworth, having issued his decision, then recused himself from the case and has refused all comment since.

But, before ducking out, he indicated part of his thinking was based on the desires of the Boswell children. The son, now 9, was uncomfortable with his father's companion, although he said he liked the man's dog and didn't want the man to move away.

But the daughter, now 6, has indicated no such discomfort, and the children's psychologist and a social worker both testified they had no concerns about overnight weekend visits -- thus eroding some of Judge Rushworth's reasoning.

In approaching Maryland's Court of Special Appeals, the natural question was asked: Why is it fair that Kimberly Boswell has no restrictions on seeing her children when she's in the company of heterosexuals, but Robert Boswell can't let his kids see his gay friends?

Last week, the court agreed, effectively declaring that the children were unharmed by their father's sexual orientation, or by his relationship with his lover, and that gay parents are entitled to the same visitation rights as hetero parents.

This, too, will cause some people to go ballistic, including those who believe homosexuality is a perversion and a sin and that children should be protected from its influence. These are beliefs of those who still see homosexuality as a "lifestyle choice" and not a matter of simple biology that arrives in the womb, and who still believe that the private intimacies that occur in a person's bedroom take precedence over all other factors in his or her life.

In lifting Robert Boswell's visitation restrictions last week, the court was declaring: There is a life beyond the bedroom, there are value systems beyond sexual orientation, and such simple humanity extends to everyone.

Left unsaid, however, is the matter of sexuality of either persuasion. This isn't just an issue for gay couples, but for all unmarried people in intimate adult relationships who have to work out the logistics of the children in their lives.

The details of adult bedroom behavior are not the business of children -- nor do the kids particularly want them to be. They don't want to think about their parents in any sort of intimate behavior. Sexual discovery's awkward enough without dragging such unrepentantly geeky people as grown-ups into it.

Civilized people understand this, and thus take pains to be sensitive about it. Civilized people may be gay or straight. This is what the Court of Special Appeals was saying last week.

Declaring that gay people have the same rights as heterosexuals to embrace their children is not the same thing as saying they should welcome them into the mysteries of the bedroom -- any more than heteros should.

And the court was saying, such sensitivities are not shown to be based on anybody's sexual instincts.

Pub Date: 11/02/97

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