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Lesbian Mother Regains Custody of Son

Lesbian Mother Regains Custody of Son

Los Angeles Times

A Virginia mother whose young son was taken away last year because she lives with another lesbian won the right to regain custody Tuesday in a closely watched gay rights legal battle.

"The fact that a parent is homosexual does not per se render a parent unfit to have custody of his or her child,'' a Virginia appeals court declared.

Last September, a Richmond, Va., judge shocked gay-rights activists by taking from Sharon Bottoms, 24, her 2-year-old son Tyler and putting him in the care of her mother, Kay. Judge Buford M. Parsons Jr. said that because sodomy was "immoral (and) illegal'' under state law, a mother's lesbian relationship made her unfit to raise her child.

Had that reasoning been adopted widely, gay parents would have been in danger of losing their children in the many states that continue to deem same-sex relationships as illegal.

But on Tuesday, the appeals court called the judge's order a mistake and said that homosexuality does not strip a mother of her "natural and legal right'' to raise her child.

"The parent's right to the custody and companionship of the child should only be disrupted if there are compelling reasons to do so,'' the state court said. No evidence showed that Sharon Bottoms had "abused or neglected her son'' or that her lesbian relationship had "a deleterious effect'' on the child.

Gay rights lawyers said they were delighted with the reversal. "This sends a strong message that just because a woman is a lesbian, it does not make her an unfit mother,'' said Paula Brantner, interim legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights in San Francisco.

But a leader of a group that espouses family values said the ruling might hurt the child.

"This is a very unfortunate ruling because it sends a false message that male and female roles are insignificant,'' said Kristi Hamrick of Family Research Council in Washington. "This young boy could be damaged without an effective male role model.''