Protections for Non-Traditional Families at Stake as the U.S. Supreme Court Considers a Washington Visitation Statute

Argument on Wednesday, January 12, 10:00 a.m.

Date

Date: 
01/07/1999

(NEW YORK, January 7, 2000) — The United States Supreme Court, which rarely hears matters of family law, should reject extreme positions on all sides of a Washington visitation case with potential implications for lesbian and gay families, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund said Friday.

On Wednesday, January 12, the Justices hear Troxel v. Granville, which questions the validity of a Washington statute that allows “any person” to request visitation “at any time.” Lambda Managing Attorney Ruth E. Harlow, who co-wrote Lambda’s friend-of-the-court brief in the case, will speak with reporters following the hearing.

“Changes in the modern family are a fact of life, and the law must leave room for them. Lesbian and gay parents are at the forefront of many of those changes. In the interests of our children, it is crucial that the Court chart a course that respects parental rights while also allowing for the diversity of modern families,” said Harlow.

The Justices will review the Washington Supreme Court’s finding that the visitation statute was too broad, and that parents’ constitutional rights permit non-parent visitation only when severe harm to the child is at issue. The appellant is a grandfather who petitioned for visitation under the statute which allows any third party to seek visitation so long as the court finds it to be in the child’s best interest.

Lambda agrees that the statute should be invalidated but rejects the Washington court’s extreme approach, which fails to provide the flexibility needed by evolving family structures. Parental autonomy cannot be absolute, but neither should families be made totally vulnerable to arbitrary intrusion from third parties.

Said Harlow, “No one knows better than the gay community the liabilities of an approach that is extreme in either direction. Not only must we regularly fight off challenges by those who use prejudice to justify taking our children away from us, but we also routinely suffer when courts impose the preconception that only biological or legal parents have important and enforceable relationships with children.”

The appropriate balance between parental rights, children’s needs, and the realities of diverse modern families can be struck, Lambda argues, by first requiring visitation petitioners to show that they have an unusually significant, parent-like relationship to the child. After that initial threshold is reached, courts should look to the well-established “best interest” standard to guide their visitation rulings.

Patricia M. Logue, supervising attorney of Lambda’s Midwest Regional Office, who co-wrote the brief, added, “Even as the family evolves, the need for a loving, nurturing environment for children remains the same. The quality and security of the familial relationships, rather than biology or labels, determine a child’s well-being.”

Lambda is the nation’s oldest and largest legal group serving lesbians, gay men, and people with HIV/AIDS. Headquartered in New York, Lambda has regional offices in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Atlanta.

WHAT: Hearing in Troxel v. Granville, a grandparent visitation case with tremendous implications for non-traditional families

WHO: Managing Attorney Ruth E. Harlow, co-author of Lambda’s amicus brief in the case, will speak with reporters following the argument

WHERE: United States Supreme Court, 1 First Street N.E., Washington, D.C. WHEN: Wednesday, January 12, 10:00 a.m.

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(Troxel v. Granville, No. 99-138)

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Contact: Peg Byron 212-809-8585 x 230, 888-987-1984 (pager)
Ruth E. Harlow 212-809-8585 x 210

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