The rights of same-sex parents in Texas are at the center of allegations leveled this month against Judge John R. Roach, who presides over the 296th District Court in McKinney. On May 8, state resident Page Price claimed in a Facebook post that Roach had enforced a "morality clause" in a custody agreement between her lesbian partner, Carolyn Compton, and Compton's ex-husband. Price said the judge's ruling will effectively split the same-sex couple apart.
For gays and lesbian living in Texas, the state's prohibition on same-sex marriage does not simply limit whom they can and cannot marry. The ban also affects everything from medical power of attorney and estate planning, to parental custody.
According to a statement emailed to The Huffington Post by Barrett Stern, Compton and Price's attorney, the state's morality clause makes it illegal for Compton to have anyone she is dating or is intimate with -- but is not related to by blood or marriage -- be at her home with her two children after 9 p.m. Price currently lives with Compton but cannot marry her because the state of Texas forbids such a union.
"Carolyn Lang Compton and I have been together almost three years and have a very happy and healthy home," Price wrote on Facebook. "Our children are all happy and well adjusted. By his [Roach's] enforcement [of the clause], being that we cannot marry in this state, I have been ordered to move out of my home."
Price was given 30 days, as of the May 7 custody ruling, to pack her things and find a new home.
Stern said in his email to HuffPost that, although his clients were "disappointed" with Roach's decision, "Ms. Compton and Ms. Price plan to comply with the Courts clarification order, even though it will be disruptive to their family and has the potential of being harmful to the children." He added that he believes the ruling to be "unconstitutional" and that it constitutes "a burden on parents, regardless of their sexual orientation, that takes away and unreasonably limits their ability to make parental decisions."
Paul Key, the attorney for Compton's ex-husband, Joshua Compton, told HuffPost in a phone interview that his client was just trying to make sure both Comptons were following the rules of their divorce agreement, which was finalized in 2011, according to court records obtained by the Dallas Voice. The case was re-opened in April to dispute the custody of the couple's two children.
Key added that this is "a very common order" in custody cases, and one which Joshua Compton was abiding by. "We sought to enforce that order, because it wasn't being complied with [by Carolyn Compton]," he said.
The attorney also noted that, while he was sympathetic to the "unfortunate" position the order puts Carolyn Compton and Page Price in, same-sex marriage is "a legislative issue" and has nothing to do with his client's goals.
"I see how this creates a situation where [Carolyn] can't marry Paige, while [Joshua] could marry a girlfriend," Key told HuffPost. "But that's not why we're doing it. We would have done the same thing if it were some guy that had moved in."
Key added that, in his opinion, his client was a good dad. However, Price claimed in her Facebook post that Joshua Compton was an absent father.
Ken Upton Jr., senior staff attorney for Lambda Legal’s Dallas office, told the Voice that he was familiar with the case and was watching it closely. According to him, these morality clauses are rarely enforced, but can be used to target homosexual ex-spouses.
“What the clause has become is an extra burden on gay people because they’re no more likely to violate it than straight people,” Upton said. “It’s a problem that continues with homophobia.”
Compton can appeal the decision, but ThinkProgress notes that she will be forced to defend herself in "the notoriously conservative Texas court system." Indeed, Judge John Roach, a former Marine, makes no attempt to hide his Republican Party leanings: He ran for reelection under the tagline "Proven conservative" and claimed on his website to have been "involved in the Collin County Republican Party since the age of 8."
Price and Compton's legal roadblock echoes the 2011 ruling that used a morality clause to prohibit a gay Texas father from being alone with his partner's children. At the time, Harris County Associate Judge Charley E. Prine Jr. ruled that William Flowers could not leave his children alone with any man not related to him “by blood or adoption." This meant that Flowers' husband, Jim Evans, was in violation of the ruling, according to the Houston Chronicle. Though the pair were married in Connecticut, where same-sex unions are legal, Texas did not recognize their union.
View the video below to watch Roach discuss the responsibilities of being a district court judge in an interview with The Collin County Observer from 2010.