Tennessee Appeals Court Says Government Can't Treat Gay People Differently in Deciding Child Custody and Visitation

Affiliate: ACLU of Tennessee
March 24, 2004 12:00 am

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NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Court of Appeals today struck down a court order that told a gay parent not to do anything which “”exposes”” his son to “”the gay lifestyle,”” according to the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented the parent.

The court went on to say that “”[n]either gay parents nor heterosexual parents have special rights,”” and that courts should follow the same principles in placing limits on visitation and custody for both gay and straight parents.

“”This is a significant decision for gay and lesbian parents,”” said Ken Choe, a staff attorney for the ACLU’s Lesbian and Gay Rights Project. “”Courts have no business telling parents how to raise their children, and they especially have no business telling parents to be dishonest with their kids.””

The decision came in the case of Joseph Hogue, who was sentenced to two days in jail in September 2002 for telling his son that he is gay. The judge who imposed the sentence ruled that Hogue had violated an earlier order the judge had made prohibiting him from “”exposing the child to…his gay lifestyle.”” Today, the Court of Appeals said that the order was so unspecific that it could not be enforced.

In January, the appeals court cleared Hogue of contempt because telling his son that he is gay was not part of the restraining order. However, the court went on to say that the restraining order itself was valid. Following a request by the ACLU, the court reversed that decision today.

“”One of the great things about this decision is that it makes it clear there are no double standards,”” said ACLU of Tennessee cooperating attorney Sam Felker of Bass, Berry & Sims. “”Courts will have to follow the same principles for child custody and visitation for gay parents as they do for straight parents. The fact that a parent is gay will no longer be an issue.””

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