Homophobia on the bench Rushworth's rebuke: Anne Arundel judge learns his bias was wrong in custody ruling.

March 16, 1998

LAWRENCE H. RUSHWORTH, circuit judge in Anne Arundel County, apparently recognizes he erred in 1996 when he imposed rigid child-visitation restrictions against a father who is homosexual.

The state Commission on Judicial Disabilities issued a confidential warning to the judge, which he could have kept private. However, he felt obligated to publicly acknowledge the warning.

Judge Rushworth's problems stemmed from a divorce case in which he prohibited a 9-year-old boy from visiting his father as long as the father's boyfriend or "anyone having homosexual tendencies or such persuasions" was in the father's home. Until the judge's ruling, homosexuality did not appear to have played much of a role in the suit between the boy's parents.

The child was ambivalent about the father's boyfriend. The mother did not seek restrictions. Moreover, the judge only addressed the nonmarital relationships of the father, not of the heterosexual mother.

Clearly, Judge Rushworth's personal attitudes toward homosexuals influenced his decision. Maryland's judicial code clearly states that judges should not show bias or prejudice based on sexual orientation.

Maryland's Court of Special Appeals overturned Judge Rushworth's ruling in October. Judges may consider parental adultery and sexual orientation in visitation cases only if proof exists that children would be harmed, it said. That ruling is being appealed to the Court of Appeals.

A judge who says, "I've been admonished and warned and embarrassed," received the message the disabilities panel intended to send.

Judge Rushworth's repentant reaction is more encouraging than the defensiveness shown by Baltimore Circuit Judge Thomas J. Bollinger Sr. when that judge was upbraided for his inappropriate rulings and remarks in cases involving spousal abuse and rape.

Representatives of the Lesbian Avengers, a gay rights group, were unhappy that its complaint against Judge Rushworth didn't result in a harsher penalty. Perhaps the most important result has been achieved, however.

Judge Rushworth -- at least one hopes -- has learned that sexual orientation by itself is not a measure of parental fitness.

Pub Date: 3/16/98

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.