Ohio Appeals Court Declares Sexual Orientation Irrelevant in Custody Battles

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Rejects denial of custody to gay father
June 20, 1997

(CHICAGO, June 20, 1997) -- An Ohio state appeals court declared that a gay father should not have lost custody of his son, ruling that sexual orientation has no significance in child custody decisions, said Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund Friday.

Patricia M. Logue, managing attorney for Lambda's Midwest Regional Office, represented the father, Herbert Inscoe, Sr., who has raised his 12-year-old son Herbie for most of his life.

"The question is not whether a parent is gay but how well a child is being raised," said Logue, who argued the appeal on February 27. "This father and son were separated based on the father's sexual orientation alone, and that should never have happened."

In its decision released this week, dated June 16, the Ohio Court of Appeals for the Fourth Appellate District, located in Meigs County, stated unanimously, "A parent's sexual orientation, standing alone, has no relevance to a decision concerning the allocation of parental rights and responsibilities... [Additionally,] a trial court must disregard adverse impacts on the child that flow from society's disapproval of a parent's sexual orientation."

The court ordered a remand to determine custody with removal of all consideration of the parents' sexual orientations.

In 1995, after a court challenge from Inscoe's former wife, Bonnie Inscoe Franklin, an Ohio trial court took Herbie from his father's home and transferred him to his mother for no reason except that Inscoe is openly gay. Substantial evidence showed that Herbie had been happy and thriving with his father.

In 1996, Lambda persuaded the Court of Appeals to restore custody to the father pending his appeal. The child was found living in deplorable conditions when Inscoe, with the help of the sheriff, sought to enforce his right for visitation. The father and son now live in Florida with Inscoe's partner and daughter.

Beatrice Dohrn, Lambda's legal director, said, "This ruling, like others in Lambda cases from Illinois to North Carolina, encourages courts to focus on a child's needs and evidence about the child's well being, not on homophobic conjecture."

Kim Kirkley, Lambda staff attorney, assisted Logue in the case. Rita Fuchsman of Chillicothe, Ohio, is the attorney for amici, the Ohio Human Rights Bar Association, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the Ohio Psychological Association, and the National Association of Social Workers, who filed a brief on lesbian and gay parenting issues.

(Case # 95-CA-012)

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