Ohio Appeals Court Rejects Antigay Constitutional Argument in Lambda Legal's Case on Behalf of Lesbian Mother
(Cleveland, Ohio, August 11, 2010) — The Eighth District Court of Appeals in Ohio last week issued a decision rejecting an attempt to use the state's antigay constitutional amendment to prevent a lesbian mother from sharing custody of her children with her former partner.
Judge Mary J. Boyle wrote for the court: "...when a dispute arises, as it did in here, courts must do what they have always done—decide what is in the best interest of the children. This is exactly what the trial court did in this case." (Read the decision.)
"We are thrilled that the court rejected antigay bias and focused on the needs of the children. This decision upheld an award of shared custody to two mothers, citing case law protecting children in non-traditional Ohio families for more than a century," said Camilla Taylor, Senior Staff Attorney in Lambda Legal's Midwest Regional Office in Chicago. "These children have a right to the continued care and support of both of the women they know to be their parents. The antigay amendment simply does not apply to parent-child relationships, and we hope this decision puts that line of argument to rest at last."
Lambda Legal represents Rita Goodman in her pursuit to continue to parent her two sons. Goodman and her former partner Siobhan LaPiana were in a committed relationship for 10 years. During that time the women planned and had two children. LaPiana gave birth to the children but both women equally parented the boys, who love and rely on both of them as their mothers. Before the birth of the first child, Goodman and LaPiana drafted and signed a parenting agreement detailing their intent to share all responsibilities of parenthood. After the couple split, LaPiana began restricting Goodman's time with the boys. In February 2007, Goodman filed a lawsuit, and in August, 2008, the trial court ordered visitation for Goodman. LaPiana appealed, arguing, among other things, that Ohio's antigay constitutional amendment prevents courts from entering orders permitting former lesbian partners to share custody, and that the court's order unconstitutionally infringed on her right to autonomy as a parent. Those arguments were rejected by the court.
"I made a promise to take care of my sons always—and I'm just trying to make good on that promise," said Lambda Legal client Rita Goodman, "I'm glad that this is over and that we all have security in knowing that I will always be able to be there for them."
This decision means that Ohio's antigay constitutional amendment has no impact on Ohio courts' authority to order shared custody between former same-sex partners and that, because LaPiana agreed to co-parent her children from birth with Goodman, it is constitutional for courts to step in to protect the children's bonded relationship to Goodman.
On December 31, 2008, in the Lambda Legal case In re J.D.F., the Ohio Supreme Court rejected a similar effort by a woman in a custody dispute with her former partner to use Ohio's antigay constitutional amendment as a weapon to sever the parental relationship between her child and her former partner.
A third case involving similar facts, In re Lucy Kathleen Mullen, is currently before the Ohio Supreme Court. In Mullen former lesbian partners are disputing custody of the child they co-parented from birth and the biological mother is challenging the legal protections for children and non-biological parents on which the Eighth District Court of Appeals relied in upholding Rita Goodman's right to share custody of her boys. Lambda Legal represents the non-biological parent in In re Lucy Kathleen Mullen.
Camilla Taylor, Senior Staff Attorney is handling the case for Lambda Legal. She is joined by co-counsel Pamela J. MacAdams of Morganstern, MacAdams & DeVito Co., LPA, in Cleveland, Ohio.
The case is In re S.J.L. and J.K.L.
Contact: Jonathan Adams 212-809-8585 ext 267; [email protected]
Lambda Legal is a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and those with HIV through impact litigation, education and public policy work.