Tennessee's Highest Court Rules in Favor of Lesbian Mother

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Lambda says unanimous ruling improves protections for lesbian and gay parents
May 2, 2001

(ATLANTA, May 2, 2001) — Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund said Wednesday that the Tennessee Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling in favor of a lesbian mother increases protections for gay parents who live with their partners and have full or partial custody of their children.

Lambda filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case, explaining to the court that all available evidence proves a parent’s sexual orientation is irrelevant to children’s well-being and that children do not need to be shielded from their parents’ committed relationships.

In one of the few cases it has ever considered involving lesbian or gay parents, Tennessee’s highest court overturned an appeals court decision that barred a lesbian mother from having her partner in their home when her two daughters would visit. The appeals court ordered the restriction following arguments from the former husband, who said he wants his children to live by the Biblical mandate that unmarried adults should not live together.

Ruling 5-0, the Tennessee Supreme Court said there was no reason why Julia Eldridge should be required to have her partner, Lisa Franklin, leave their home during visits with her daughters, noting that the women’s living together caused no harm to the children.

“The record does not show that [the child in the dispute] is in moral crisis because of Ms. Franklin’s presence during overnight visitation,” the decision said.

The case began after the Eldridges divorced in 1992, when their two children were ages eight and nine. Julia Eldridge was granted visitation rights, although her former husband sought to make her sexual orientation an issue in the proceedings. The court declined to impose any arbitrary restrictions on her after hearing testimony that showed no harm to the children as a result of their mother’s sexual orientation or relationship with her partner. The appellate court, however, barred Eldridge’s partner from being present during visits with the children even though it admitted that the women had done nothing inappropriate in front of the children.

Said Staff Attorney Stephen Scarborough of Lambda’s Southern Regional Office and Lambda’s friend-of-the-court brief author in the case, “This ruling is a victory for Julia and all gay and lesbian parents, who should not have their home lives turned upside down by misguided court rulings. Equally important this is a victory for children, who suffer when courts place unnecessary barriers between them and their parents.”

The National Center for Lesbian Rights co-wrote the friend-of-the-court brief with Lambda.

Lambda is the oldest and largest legal organization dedicated to the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, and people with HIV and AIDS. Lambda’s headquarters are in New York and regional offices in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Atlanta. Lambda will open an office in Dallas in 2002.

(Eldridge v. Eldridge, No. E1999-02583-SC-R11-CV)

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