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VA Supreme Court Denies Custody to Sharon Bottoms

The Virginia Supreme Court today denied Sharon Bottoms, a lesbian mother, custody of her son, Tyler. The American Civil Liberties Union, which represents Ms. Bottoms, denounced the decision and vowed to continue its two-year battle to reunite mother and child. Today's decision overturned a decision by that state's Appeals Court and ordered reinstatement of the trial court's ruling awarding custody of the child to Pamela Kay Bottoms, Sharon's mother.

"The Virginia Supreme Court's decision is a stunning disgrace," said Marc E. Elovitz, an attorney for Sharon Bottoms with the ACLU's national Lesbian and Gay Right Project. "To take Tyler away from his mother just because some people might not approve of her sexual orientation is just plain wrong. The court-appointed psychologist testified that Sharon Bottoms is a fit parent, but this Court ignored that expert testimony. Instead, it relied on unsubstantiated allegations by the grandmother to shore up its position that Sharon was an unfit parent.

"The Court ignored the undisputed evidence that kids with gay parents develop just as well as other children," Elovitz said. "The Court assumed that Tyler would be harmed by having `social condemnation' targeted at his lesbian mother."

The ACLU's national Lesbian and Gay Rights Project and the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia previously won a ruling from the Virginia Court of Appeals. That court ordered custody of Tyler be restored to Sharon Bottoms. The case has gained widespread public attention because of the heart- rending personal story it entails and its importance for lesbian mothers.

Three of the seven judges on the Virginia Supreme Court -- Justices Keenan, Whiting and Lacy -- in a dissenting opinion written by Keenan, said: "Although there is no evidence in this record showing that the mother's homosexual conduct is harmful to the child, the majority improperly presumes that its own perception of societal opinion and the mother's homosexual conduct are germane to the issue whether the mother is an unfit parent."

"The ACLU brought this case because it raised a critical principle -- that parents be judged according to their parenting ability, not their sexual orientation," said Kent Willis, Executive Director of the ACLU of Virginia. "There was absolutely no evidence that the mother's lesbian relationship had any detrimental effect on the child."

"Virginia law has always protected the parent-child bond, but the Supreme Court today has broken that bond because of Sharon Bottoms' lesbian relationship," said Elovitz. "We expect to ask the Virginia Supreme Court to reconsider its decision in light of inconsistencies between what the trial court found and what the Supreme Court decided. We will continue to do everything we can to reunite mother and child."



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