“The constant reminders are all around Michele Hobbs’ Prospect Hill home — a puppy named Leo, a half-finished garden. Lucy’s room is still just the way she left it, the fish she caught in a neighbor’s pond still in the fishbowl.
“At times, says Hobbs, it’s overwhelming. Nearly every minute of the day, she says, she’s reminded of the 6-year-old girl she considers her daughter but hasn’t seen since the Ohio Supreme Court’s July 12 decision that terminated her parental rights.”
Dave Malaska’s new Cincinnati City Beat piece Life After Lucy: In historic case, lesbian co-parent loses rights to child (8/10/11) provides an excellent view of the new Ohio Supreme Court ruling in the Michele Hobbs child custody case.
In that case, lesbian social mother Michele Hobbs has fought a long, hard battle against biological mother Kelly Mullen, her former partner, to remain a meaningful part of their daughter Lucy’s life.
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We see Lucy’s plight as being similar to the plight of millions of children of heterosexual divorce or breakup who have been unjustifiably separated or altogether cut off from one parent, usually their fathers. In a recent op-ed column in the Columbus Dispatch, F & F Board Chair Ned Holstein, M.D., M.S. explained:
Fathers and Families has no position on same-sex marriage. But we do have a position on same-sex ‘divorce.”
Once a child has bonded with two adults as her parents, she is deeply and often permanently hurt by the sudden, court-ordered absence of one of her parents, regardless of the parents” sexual orientation, of which the child has no understanding.
Echoing the pain of millions of noncustodial parents, Hobbs told Cincinnati City Beat:
It’s devastating. The sunflowers Lucy planted in the garden are blooming, and she’s never going to see them. Her puppy is still here, her fish, all left behind. What’s worse is that I know Lucy’s probably hurting, too. She doesn’t know what happened to me. I was there, then I’m not. No explanation…
A couple of weeks before (the court ruling), Lucy was walking up the stairs and stopped. She looked at me and said, ‘I know my mommy doesn’t like you, but if she ever doesn’t let me come over, I’ll get in my car and drive over anyway’…
I know she loves me. And I hope if anyone sees her, they tell her that I miss her and I love her.
Fathers and Families salutes Ohio Supreme Court Justice Paul Pfeifer, who wrote the dissenting opinion in the case. According to City Beat:
Scott Knox, the Cincinnati attorney who had drafted many of the couples’ earlier agreements and later testified in the case…[said] “There were so many indications of Kelly’s intention to share custody, from the initial in vitro documents to estate planning, that included that phrase ‘co-parent in every way’…Frankly, I don’t know how broader you can make the statement…
Justice Paul Pfeifer…was the only member of the court to agree…
“Can an agreement that another person is a co-parent in every way possibly not include a right to custody? It cannot,” Pfeiffer wrote.
He added: “Once a natural parent promises a co-parenting relationship with another person and acts on that promise, she has created a relationship between the co-parent and the child that has its own life. The natural parent cannot simply declare that relationship over.”
He also pointed out that, in his view, the court hadn’t given proper weight to Hobbs’ documents, and too much weight to “a document that did not exist” — Mullen’s written revocation of Hobbs’ “co-parent” rights.
“A maternal relationship existed between Hobbs and Lucy. Mullen taught her daughter to call another woman ‘Momma’ and to love her as a mother. She now wishes she hadn”t, and for the majority, that”s enough,” he wrote. “It shouldn”t be.”
The case, and the ruling, have grabbed its share of national attention and debate from unexpected corners.
Mullen drew support from Liberty Counsel, the Virginia-based nonprofit litigation and policy group affiliated with Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University that has opposed same-sex marriage and gay adoption issues.
Meanwhile, Fathers and Families, a parents’ rights group based in Boston, has supported Hobbs despite its focus on fathers’ rights.
“Most of the public looks at it as a gay rights case,” says Ned Holstein, the group’s founder and chairman. “The Ohio court looked at it as a matter of what the technical definition of a parent is under law. We don’t see this case through either prism. We look at it as a case of what’s best for the child.”
When a child identifies two people as their parents for such an extended period of time, Holstein says, it’s best to maintain those relationships.
“You just don’t yank a parent away,” he adds.
Holstein says, while the decision in this case wasn’t a surprise, it is a looming concern. With more than 12,000 children living with same-sex couples in Ohio, and thousands more nationwide, the same issues will come before judges again.
“Courts are more inclined to make sole-custody rulings, and most of the time custody goes to the mother,’ Holstein says. “Where does that leave non-biological parents? They stand to lose, and so does the child.’