Nearly every night for two years, someone close to him has had to say goodbye and leave Theron McGriff's house. But the Idaho Falls, Ida., father hopes the end will be in sight on Monday, when attorneys in his precedent-setting custody case go before the state's highest court.
McGriff, a chemist at the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory, and his ex-wife, Shawn Weingartner, divorced in 1997 and agreed on joint custody, with each parent getting equal time with their two young daughters. But three years later, when McGriff's gay partner moved in with him, Weingartner appealed to Bonneville County magistrate Mark Riddoch for primary custody, saying she feared McGriff's gay relationship would cause the children to suffer backlash in their conservative, heavily Mormon town.
Riddoch restricted McGriff's visitations even more than his ex-wife requested--ruling that McGriff could visit his children only if he did not live with his partner. The Idaho supreme court, set to hear oral arguments Monday morning, could take months to decide the matter.
For now, McGriff gets the girls every other weekend plus a visit every Tuesday after school. And though he and his partner bought a house together a few months before Riddoch's 2002 ruling, they have not lived together since. Instead, McGriff's partner lived in a trailer in the driveway for a time before moving in with family members across town. "In our house every night somebody says goodbye," McGriff said. "Either my partner is leaving, or my kids are leaving. It's really hard--it's so hard, it affects everything."
The girls, now 13 and 9, have done as well as can be expected under the circumstances, he said. "We've all been forever changed by this experience. The key issue remains that my children have a right to be with both their parents, and the secondary issue is that as a gay parent, I'm treated differently," he said.
National Center for Lesbian Rights attorney Shannon Minter has taken up McGriff's case, along with attorney Richard Hearn in Pocatello. The American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund have also provided legal assistance. Weingartner has remarried. Both she and her attorney, Marie Tyler of Idaho Falls, refused comment.