The Right to Be Parents: LGBT Families and the Transformation of Parenthood

The Right to Be Parents: LGBT Families and the Transformation of Parenthood

The Right to Be Parents: LGBT Families and the Transformation of Parenthood

The Right to Be Parents: LGBT Families and the Transformation of Parenthood


In 1975, California courts stripped a lesbian mother of her custody rights because she was living openly with another woman. Twenty years later, the Virginia Supreme Court did the same thing to another lesbian mother. In ordering that children be separated from their mothers, these courts ruled that it was not possible for a woman to be both a good parent and a lesbian. The Right to be Parents is the first book to provide a detailed history of how LGBT parents have turned to the courts to protect and defend their relationships with their children. Carlos A. Ball chronicles the stories of LGBT parents who, in seeking to gain legal recognition of and protection for their relationships with their children, have fundamentally changed how American law defines and regulates parenthood. Each chapter contains riveting human stories of determination and perseverance as LGBT parents challenge the widely-held view that having a same-sexual orientation, or that being a transsexual, renders individuals incapable of being good parents.To this day, some courts are still not able to look beyond sexual orientation and gender identity in order to fairly apply legal principles in cases involving LGBT parents and their children. Yet on the whole, Ball's stories are of progress and transformation: as a result of these pioneering LGBT parent litigants, the law is increasingly recognizing the wide diversity in American familial structures. The Right to be Parents explores why and how that has come to be.


In 1996, three years after a Virginia judge took her five-year-old son Tyler away from her so that he could be raised by her mother, Sharon Bottoms made the most difficult decision of her life: believing that Tyler had suffered enough and wanting to spare him further emotional turmoil, she told her lawyers to drop the custody fight.

It had all started three years earlier, when Sharon told her mother Kay that she did not want the boy to spend time in his grandmother’s house because Kay’s live-in boyfriend had repeatedly molested Sharon when she was a girl. Kay, who had been helping her daughter by looking after Tyler in her home for several hours a week, became so infuriated by Sharon’s decision that she contacted a lawyer. A few weeks later, the attorney filed a court petition contending that Sharon was not a fit mother entitled to keep custody of Tyler because she was a lesbian living with her female partner.

Sharon was twenty-two years old when she met April Wade at a Memorial Day picnic in 1992. The two women started dating and, later that summer, the twenty-six-year-old April moved in with Sharon and Tyler. After a series of difficult relationships—including one with her former husband and father of Tyler, who had never shown any interest in the boy—Sharon felt like she had finally met the person with whom she wanted to spend the rest of her life.

Almost a year later, a hearing was held in circuit court in Virginia to determine whether Sharon should retain custody of her son. At the hearing, Kay testified that Tyler “shouldn’t be raised by lesbians” and charged that he “is going to be mentally and physically harmed because of [Sharon and April’s] relationship.” Also during the proceeding, Richard Ryder, a prominent Richmond attorney who represented Kay, made much of the fact that Wade and April sometimes hugged and kissed in front of the child, that the two women shared a bedroom, and that they had sex about once or twice a week (though never in the child’s presence).

Upon the conclusion of the six-hour hearing, the judge stripped Sharon of custody of her son because she had “openly admitted in this court that she . . .

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