Supremes Sidestep Gay Families

Did they dodge a bullet or did we? I’m not sure, but I’m a bit relieved when the Supreme Court refuses to rule on a gay adoptions case, thus letting stand a ruling that came down in our favor.

In a Washington state case, the U.S. Supreme Court refused today to block a gay woman from seeking parental rights to a child she had helped raise with her partner.

Justices could have used the case to clarify the rights of gays in child custody disputes stemming from nontraditional families.

They declined, without comment, to disturb a ruling of Washington state’s highest court that said Sue Ellen Carvin could pursue ties to the girl as a “de facto parent.” The girl is now 11.

The case had brought a contentious issue to a court that has shied away from gay rights disputes.

… Carvin’s attorneys had said the court has never agreed to hear a case involving parenting or visitation disputes arising from same-sex relationships, a recognition “that state courts can best provide the case by case attention these matters require.”

In this case, I think it may be that both the Supreme Court (and the Bush administration and Republican party, by extension) and gay families dodged a bullet this time.

With two more Bush appointees on the court, I’m actually relieved with the Supreme Court declines to delve into gay family matters. And, no, I’m not inclined to believe that the Court is immune to politics. I was disabused of that notion in 2000. So, it wouldn’t surprise me if some members of the court had their own misgivings about how a ruling in this case might play out.

On the one hand, a ruling that overturned the state court decision would certainly please members of the president’s and the Republican party’s base who have been clamoring for more action on their issues, while the a ruling that upheld it would enrage that same base — support the president and his party can ill afford to lose, and that’s already shaky, if polls are to be believed. On the other hand, a decision that overturned the state court decision might alienate a number of Americans, including some some Republicans. The response to Laurel Hester’s story shows that it rubs fair-minded people the wrong way when our families are negatively affected by right-wingers’ policies.

And maybe that’s because our families aren’t that different from other families, and get that when people see our families and hear our stories. They see our families, and their own families in ours; their own stories in ours. How many families in America wouldn’t understand going through a difficult divorce and a custody battle? What parent wouldn’t understand the implications of having a court tell you that you aren’t a parent any more, and don’t even have the right to see your child?

The difference here is merely the gender of the parents. The lesbian couple involved been a heterosexual couple, neither partner’s parenthood would have been in question even if the child was adopted and neither partner had a biological link to the child. So long as there weren’t other issues on the table, such as abuse, the kid would have the same parents he or she started out with, even if they don’t live together anymore.

So, yeah, I think we dodged a bullet. Especially with our families under fire in other states, like Indianapolis, where a proposed ban on gay adoptions looms in the legislature. Of course I think that the Washington state court made the right decision. But I’m not naive enough to think that a majority of the U.S. Supreme Court thinks so. They simply dodged a bullet; saw it coming and stepped out of the way. Sparing us the ricochet effect is an unexpected benefit, and probably an unintended one as well.

About Terrance

Black. Gay. Father. Buddhist. Vegetarian. Liberal.
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