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Why Is a Right-Wing Organization Representing Lesbian Mothers in Court?

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They say that the enemies of your enemies are your friends, but in this case that aphorism is not true.

This is the story of how Liberty Counsel, a right-wing legal organization closely associated with Liberty University (founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell), has recently been in the business of representing lesbian mothers in court. This case of strange bedfellows has come about because Liberty Counsel is interested in doing everything it can to deny all forms of legal recognition to the families of LGBT people. And the organization's lesbian clients are interested in securing judicial rulings denying their former female partners any parental rights over their children.

It has unfortunately become common for LGBT parents who are biologically related to their children to contend in court that their former same-sex partners should not be legally recognized as parents. This is the case even when the couples at one point decided jointly to have a child and when the former partner helped to raise the child before the breakup.

One of the most troubling aspects of these cases is that the biological parents almost always rely on legal arguments that have traditionally been used to deny LGBT individuals the opportunity to become parents. The bio parent litigants, for example, regularly emphasize the primacy of the biological link with the child, a consideration that they argue trumps all others. The bio parents also frequently attack the legal validity (or relevancy) of the same-sex relationship that once existed between the two adults.

It is apparently tempting for some of these LGBT parents to rely on right-wing groups such as the Liberty Counsel to make these anti-gay rights arguments in court. This is precisely what the bio mother did in the recent California case of Charisma R. v. Kristina S. The two women met in 1997, moved in together in 1998, and registered as domestic partners in 2002. The couple also decided that they both wanted to bear children and that Kristina would be artificially inseminated first. Charisma assisted with the in-home insemination, was present at the birth, and stayed home caring for the child after Kristina returned to work.

A few weeks later, Kristina left Charisma, taking their daughter with her. During the next five years, Kristina allowed Charisma to see the child only twice.

In 2004, Charisma went to court requesting that she be deemed the legal parent of her daughter and that she be permitted to see her. Kristina, determined to do everything she could to prevent her former partner from having contact with their daughter, hired Liberty Counsel and moved to Texas. The right-wing lawyers have argued in court for the last five years that Charisma is not the young girl's legal parent. Last month, a California appellate court disagreed and ordered that Charisma be permitted to reunify with her daughter.

This is not the first time that Liberty Counsel has represented a lesbian mother in court. For the last few years, the group has been engaged in an aggressive litigation campaign in Vermont and Virginia on behalf of a lesbian mother who has been trying to prevent her former partner from having any contact with the child whom she helped to raise for 18 months before the couple broke up. Fortunately, the Vermont and Virginia courts, like the California court, have rejected the efforts to deny a child the company of her second parent.

Liberty Counsel also represented a bio mom who argued that Florida did not have to recognize her former partner's adoption of their daughter approved by a court in Washington State. In May, a Florida appellate court disagreed by holding that the Constitution's Full Faith and Credit Clause requires Florida---the state where the couple moved to before they broke up---to recognize a valid adoption decree issued by a court in another state.

Even though Liberty Counsel is losing these cases, the reality is that these are long and expensive court battles that do a grave disservice to the children involved.

They are also quite harmful to the interests of LGBT people. It is one thing to believe that one is a better parent than one's former partner and that therefore one is entitled to custody after the relationship ends. It is another thing altogether to try to persuade a court that the former partner is, in effect, a legal stranger to the child. And it is even worse when LGBT parents decide to make a pact with the devil, so to speak, by seeking the aid of an organization committed to denying equal citizenship rights to LGBT individuals.

I cannot attest to the type of internal rationalization that would lead an LGBT person to hire committed anti-gay rights lawyers to litigate on her behalf. Hopefully, the biological parents who have done this (or are considering it) will come to their senses by realizing that those who seek to do legal harm to their ex-partners are not, in the end, their friends.

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