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    Views: Court can't protect lesbian mom from homophobia
by MUBARAK DAHIR
2004-07-14


Elsey McLeod and Cheryl Clark lived together as a lesbian couple for 11 years.

But in 2000, Clark converted to a conservative brand of Christianity. She began to feel that being in a lesbian relationship was wrong, and in 2001, she broke up with McLeod.

But like many lesbian and gay couples, McLeod and Clark weren't just partners. They were also parents.

In 1995, the two women adopted a baby from China. Since neither China's laws nor Colorado's laws sanction same-sex adoption, Clark was the official adoptive parent. But in 1996, the two women did secure a joint custody order from a Denver judge.

And the two women raised the child together, sharing the responsibilities of parenthood. They were clearly both mothers to the little girl, now nine years old.

But when Clark found her conservative God and left her lesbian relationship, she tried to cut McLeod out of their daughter's life. Clark argued that since she was the sole legal adoptive parent on paper, McLeod shouldn't have any custody rights to their daughter.

Read more story below....

Luckily, a Denver judge ruled otherwise, acknowledging that McLeod had shared equally in raising the child. The judge recognized that while McLeod may not have been an adoptive parent on paper, in reality she was as much a 'psychological parent' to the little girl as Clark. Cutting off communications or a relationship between McLeod and the little girl, the judge decided, was not in the child's best interest.

The judge wisely ended up giving the women 50/50 custody of their daughter.

But the judge made another decision that was not so wise, though he clearly thought it, too, was in the child's best interest. He ruled that Clark had to 'make sure there is nothing in the religious upbringing or teaching that the minor child is exposed to that can be considered homophobic.'

As lesbian and gay people, our initial reaction to this ruling might be to applaud it, especially after learning the history that lead up to the ruling: McLeod discovered that Clark's conservative church was displaying materials from such groups as Focus on the Family and the Promise Keepers. The two groups are decidedly anti-gay, even vehemently so.

McLeod worried that Clark would teach their daughter homophobia. Thus, she sought some sort of protection against it in the court.

But it was a troublesome decision, and we should actually be glad that an appeals court recently overturned it.

It can be tough being a First Amendment purist, especially when you strongly disagree with the beliefs that are being espoused.

In this case, it gets even more uncomfortable when you don't trust the motives behind the calls to exercise those freedoms.

But in the end, none of that really matters. We can't pick and choose when and for whom we want the First Amendment to apply. As lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, we need to be particularly vigilant about protecting the First Amendment, because if you look at history, more often than not it is our right to express ourselves that gets censored.

The judge's order was in fact vague enough that it could have infringed on both Clark's freedom of speech and her freedom of religion.

Furthermore, a judge's order can't protect McLeod or her daughter from homophobia.

Granted, these are very difficult circumstances, and it would be awful for the little girl to be put in a situation where one parent is trying to poison her against the other. This little girl should not have to be a battleground over which the tenets of conservative Christianity duke it out with the more contemporary idea that being lesbian or gay is a normal variation in life.

But the truth is that the little girl's mothers do represent a larger cultural war that is and has been raging in this country for decades, and promises to continue to do so. The two mothers come from clashing ideological backgrounds, and that will surely be evident as the two women try to impart their beliefs onto their daughter.

But no court can help a mother win the heart of her child.

Even if the judge's ruling had not been rightly reversed on the point of what Clark can and cannot teach her daughter about homosexuality, McLeod would not be protected from the real possibility that some people in this world—be it Clark or her church or the U.S. Congress or the other little kids who plays with the girl at school—will try to show her little girl that one of her mothers is bad because she is a lesbian.

The way to counter that is not through a court order, but by showing her daughter love, and exposing her to other people and other ideas that can show the little girl just how wonderful it is to have a lesbian for a mother.

Some people might argue that it isn't a fair fight, that homophobia and prejudice against lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people is so entrenched in society, that the odds are against McLeod.

But I think they are wrong. I think the Christian conservatives are so afraid of us because they understand that, slowly but surely, we are winning the battle for the hearts and minds of America.

They know that our message of acceptance and tolerance outweighs theirs of prejudice and discrimination, dressed up to look like religion behind a vengeful and ugly God.

McLeod must have faith that her daughter will be able to see that, too.

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