When I came out (as a gay man) my children were young; 5 and 9. This was in 1995 and it was a scary time for LGBT parenting. I had the best attorney for gay issues in the city of Birmingham.
There was a two year period between when I came out and when my divorce was final. During that time, my children developed relationships with my partner (at the time). They got to know his family, they celebrated together, made or bought gifts for each other, basically, everything that a family member would and should do when families are joined.
When the judge ruled in the divorce case, I has hit with restricted visitation. I could not have my children (by that time aged 7 and 11) in the presence of my partner.
We appealed the decision (with the help of Lambda Legal, a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and those with HIV through impact litigation, education and public policy work). The Court of Appeals upheld the lower court's order.
For years we had to live under that draconian order. The injustice was hard to deal with, but the logistics and inconvenience made it almost impossible.
Fifteen years later society has changed. Research shows that children being raised in same-sex households perform as well or better than those raised in opposite-sex household or by single parents. In several states, gays and lesbians are allowed to marry the person they love. In other states, different degrees of domestic partnership are in place. The President of the United States has voiced his support for marriage equality.
But in Bessemer, Judge Eddie Vines has ignored fact and allowed his religious views to create an injustice similar to the one which I experienced in 1995.
A lesbian mother, who is married (in another jurisdiction) to another woman, has just been denied custody, and the child is being returned to an abusive father. On top of that, the child's other mom is not allowed to be present during visitation times.
"Custody and visitation of the minor child shall remain as previously ordered by this
Court, except that the Defendant is restrained from having ****** ****** present
when she is exercising visitation with the child."
The judge said the child would suffer "gender confusion" if allowed to be around ******.
Judge Vines told her point blank that he is a Southern Baptist deacon and that being a lesbian placed her child in an immoral environment.
The father admitted in court to abusing the child. Yet Judge Vines believes that sending a kid to live with his abusive father is better than living in a home where love comes from both parents.
In the past the father has been convicted of domestic abuse against the child's mother. Yet Judge Vines thinks that he provides a moral environment in which to raise a child.
One thing I know from experience. Children who are placed in this situation grow up learning about justice and discrimination and bigotry. They learn that in Alabama, religion trumps justice.
And they continue to love the person they are separated from.
Again, this is 2012. We know a lot more about same-sex relationships and parenting than we did in 1995. But Judge Vines has let his own prejudices and ignorance (about sexuality and child well being) influence his ruling.
This ruling should be appealed, but knowing the makeup of the Alabama Court of Appeals and their history on cases of this type, I wouldn't be too confident about the process.
And let's start looking for someone to run against Judge Vines in 2014. Bessemer can be better than this.