Wednesday, July 31, 2013

 

Lesbian mom in Alabama wins full visitation rights

A lesbian mother of four in Alabama has won standard visitation rights in a case that sets a precedent for LGBT parents in the state, advocates say.

One of the major hurdles preventing gay and lesbian parents from having full visitation and custody rights may be a little lower following an Alabama judge’s order  granting a lesbian mother of four standard visitation rights.

Chelsea Hughes moved from Seattle to Mobile, Ala., to be with her four children after their father, her ex-husband, was relocated in a military transfer. The father denied Hughes access to her kids because of her sexual orientation and her ongoing relationship with a woman, according to Hughes’ attorneys.

Related: Dallas judge orders lesbian couple to separate or lose kids

Despite the fact that Hughes and her partner were legally married in Washington, a lower court judge ruled that Hughes’ partner could not be present during Hughes’ visits with her children. So-called “paramour” restrictions prohibit unmarried partners from spending the night and can be especially burdensome for gay parents in states like Alabama, where same-sex marriage isn’t legal.

The case had the potential to be a landmark decision for gay parents, but the two sides eventually settled after two and a half years of legal battles. The Mobile County Circuit Court judge’s order on July 25 confirms their agreement, which grants Hughes standard visitation rights without any overnight restrictions on her partners, whether they be married or not. Hughes has recently split from her partner.

"This sets the right precedent for LGBT parents – and any unmarried parent in Alabama – because LGBT people and unmarried parents have just as much right to their children as heterosexual couples," Sam Wolfe of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which co-represented Hughes, said in a statement on Wednesday.


Hughes’ local attorney said that he had hoped the case would result in a clear affirmation of the rights of gay parents or a recognition of same-sex marriage in Alabama, but that it is still a victory since Chelsea Hughes has been granted standard visitation.

"We couldn’t put our political agenda ahead of her interests," Richard Shields, of the Mobile law firm McClean Denson Shields, told MSN News.

Shields added, however, that the case is still significant because it sends a message that people can no longer try to use the Alabama court system to take parental rights away from gay parents.

Gay and lesbian rights advocates say the trend in court cases involving gay parents is shifting away from making a parent’s sexual orientation the paramount issue.

"It used to be the case that if you came out, you could lose custody simply because you’re a lesbian or gay, and that’s not the case any longer," Ellen Kahn of the Human Rights Campaign told MSN News from Washington. "Sexual orientation doesn’t determine one’s ability to parent, and the courts are recognizing that it’s more harmful to kids to separate them from the parents who have raised them and cared for them."

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