WINDY CITY TIMES
||Supreme court recognizes family changes
This article shared 1403 times since Wed Jun 7, 2000
Making its strongest statements yet on changing family structures, the U.S. Supreme Court Monday struck down an expansive Washington visitation statute and rejected an appeal by a couple seeking more time with their grandchildren.
The Justices, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund noted, were careful not to foreclose protections for lesbian, gay, and other non-biological parents.
"This is a very important decision for lesbian and gay families, who are at the forefront of family law changes. The Court adopted a sound, middle course in this case, one that not only appropriately respects the rights of parents, but acknowledges that no hard-and-fast rule should govern every single family dispute," said Deputy Legal Director Ruth E. Harlow, co-author of an amicus brief in Troxel v. Granville.
The Justices splintered 6-3 in the case, producing six separate opinions. The plurality opinion by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor held that the Constitution requires that "material weight" be given to the views of parents regarding the control and care of their children, although the decision does not suggest that parents have an absolute veto over those matters. Mindful that " [ t ] he demographic changes of the past century make it difficult to speak of an average American family," and that many people take on "duties of a parental nature," the Court also decided the case narrowly to avoid broad legal pronouncements with adverse consequences for other kinds of familial relationships.
The Troxel case was brought by a Washington couple who sought more visitation time with two girls, ages 10 and 8, over the objections of the girls' mother and turned on an exceptionally broad Washington statute allowing "any person" to petition for visitation at "any time."
Lambda's brief, filed with Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, had urged the Court to strike down the law as overly broad. But in the interest of non-biological lesbian and gay parents who, unlike the grandparents in this case, have unusually significant relationships warranting protection, the brief also urged the Justices to take a balanced approach and avoid an overly expansive view of parental autonomy and control.
The Supreme Court found the visitation statute unconstitutional without endorsing the Washington Supreme Court's analysis in its 1999 ruling, which made the rights of parents almost absolute. The Justices, who rarely make forays into family law, an area normally reserved for state courts, left unanswered what standards will pass constitutional muster, saying only that the Washington law does not, according to Lambda Legal Defense.
"Gay parents sometimes must defend themselves from legal challenges by meddling third parties who disapprove of the parents' sexual orientation, while non-biological parents can be shut out of their children's lives entirely," said Supervising Attorney Patricia M. Logue, who also co-authored the Lambda brief. Logue, from Chicago, added, "This ruling provides hope for families who face both of these painful situations."
This article shared 1403 times since Wed Jun 7, 2000
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