Highest Md. court to hear arguments on gay father's rights on child visits

September 09, 1998|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

Maryland's highest court will be asked today to reassess how local judges decide to limit a child's visits with divorced parents and their live-in companions, especially if the parent is gay.

The restrictions in this case were placed on overnight visits with a gay father by an Anne Arundel County judge who later was chastised by the state Commission on Judicial Disabilities for what could be considered anti-gay bias.

Gay rights groups have said the case is significant: Such restrictions hit gay couples harder because they cannot legally marry.

But the lawyer for Kimberly Boswell, the mother in this case, argues that sexual orientation is only a tangential issue and that the question should center on Maryland's vaguely defined "best interest of the child" standard in custody and visitation cases.

And legal experts say that while it is the first visitation case in which the Court of Appeals is being asked to rule specifically about a homosexual father, a ruling also is likely to affect thousands of heterosexual parents.

"If the rules are applied the same, then the courts will come up with reasonable rules. If it affects the majority community adversely, the majority will protect its own community," said Dwight Sullivan, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union.

In 1996, Anne Arundel Circuit Judge Lawrence H. Rushworth barred overnight visits by the two children of Robert G. Boswell of Glen Burnie in the company of Boswell's lover or in the presence of "anyone having homosexual tendencies."

The Court of Special Appeals, Maryland's intermediate court, overturned that decision last year. It ruled that there was no proof that Boswell's relationship harmed the children and that only one child preferred not to sleep over at the home Boswell shares with his partner.

Kimberly Boswell is asking the Court of Appeals to reinstate Rushworth's ban on visits in the presence of her former husband's partner.

Pub Date: 9/09/98

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