On Thursday, April 6, the Washington State Supreme Court overturned a 2014 child custody ruling that forbade Rachelle Black, a lesbian stay-at-home mom, from having conversations with her kids about “religion, homosexuality, or other alternative lifestyle concepts.”
The court ruling meant that Black could not introduce (or even mention) her same-sex partner to her kids, share any LGBTQ-related content (books, movies, art or events) or give them any “symbolic clothing or jewelry” like a rainbow bracelet that her youngest son once wanted to wear. Her children’s therapist had to approve of any such materials beforehand, which is unreasonable, degrading and a clear violation of Black’s right to free-speech.
A little background: Black and her husband were married for 20 years and had three sons together. They raised them in a conservative Christian home and sent them to private Christian schools (settings that the children’s therapist described as “very dogmatic fundamentalist”). In 2011, Black came out as lesbian and, in 2014, the court that oversaw their divorce proceedings awarded full-custody and decision making power to Black’s husband, mostly because they saw Black’s lesbianism as potentially disruptive to the boys’ religious worldview. They reasoned that their lives would remain more stable if they knew nothing of their mother’s lesbian relationship.
Interestingly, the children’s therapist actually told the boys about their mother’s same-sex attraction: The 15-year-old was “flat” to the news and “still processing” it, the 12-year-old demonstrated that he would love her no matter what and the 7-year-old didn’t fully understand.
In their recent court filing, the Supreme Court said that the lower court shouldn’t have let Black’s sexual orientation factor into their decision. Furthermore, it says that the 2014 decision used unsubstantiated presumption that Black’s lesbianism would harm the kids (for example, by assuming that the kids would get bullied at school for having a gay mom) rather than using actual evidence that they would be harmed.
The ruling also said that the children’s guardian ad litem, the court-appointed investigators tasked with finding arrangements in the “best interests of a child,” showed anti-gay sentiment in her testimony, proven by her repeated use of “lifestyle choice” when referring to Black’s behavior after coming out.
The Washington Supreme Court actually cited the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 marriage equality decision when declaring that LGBTQ people like Black have historically faced discrimination in the judicial system. The Washington judges ruled that the parents should revise their parenting plan and called the 2014 restrictions placed on Black’s speech “unconstitutional.”
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