North Dakota's supreme court would be rewarding prejudice by agreeing to take away a lesbian couple's custody of two young girls, which a judge revoked because of the couple's relationship, an attorney is contending. The appeal gives the justices a chance to revisit a 1981 decision that used
homosexuality as the reason for awarding custody of two children to their heterosexual father rather than to his former wife and her lesbian partner. Northwest district judge Gary Holum relied on the earlier precedent in declaring last spring that the girls' father, Shawn Damron, should take over custody of the children from their mother, Valerie Damron, and her partner, Ann Elliot.
The appeal has drawn the attention of the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation. An ACLU attorney, Tamara Lange, spoke on Valerie Damron's behalf during supreme court arguments on Thursday. Lange said the children--two girls, ages 4 and 10--are thriving in their mother's home. Shawn Damron agreed to let his former wife have custody of their daughters even though he knew of his wife's sexual orientation, Lange said. "The bottom line is that there is no reason in this case to subject Harley and Cheyenne to the disruption and the painful, destabilizing effect of a change of custody," Lange told the justices. The high court has not yet issued its decision.
Shawn Damron concedes that his former wife is a good mother to their daughters, and Damron's attorney, Tom Slorby, said the custody case was brought because of Valerie Damron's out lesbian relationship. Shawn Damron fears that his children will be exposed to ridicule in school because of their mother's living arrangement, Slorby said. Chief Justice Gerald VandeWalle wrote the court's decision in the 1981 case involving a lesbian couple. Responding to a question from VandeWalle, Slorby said he does not believe society has become more tolerant of gay men and lesbians since then. "I don't think we've come anywhere at all," Slorby said. "It's a sad statement for me to make.... The homophobia is still as great as it always was."