A gay father
should be given a chance to present evidence that his son
was harmed by a Virginia court ruling that he would have to
give up custody of the boy unless his partner moved
out of the house, the Maryland court of appeals ruled.
The state's second highest court reversed a Montgomery
County, Md., circuit court judge's decision to dismiss
the complaint by the father, Ulf Hedberg, without giving his
lawyers a chance to present evidence. In a ruling issued
Monday, the appeals court sent the case back to the
circuit court for a full hearing. "The father is now
given his day in court to show why the
restriction...has been hurting the child and should be
modified," said Susan Sommer, a Lambda Legal lawyer
who helped represent Hedberg in the appeals court.
"The [appeals] court concluded that the father had
presented...a number of facts showing that the child was
only being hurt by having the longtime partner
restricted from living in the family home."
The case was dismissed in circuit court on a
motion for summary judgment, but the appeals court
ruled that Hedberg should be given a full evidentiary
hearing, she said Thursday. Hedberg and his partner, Blaise
Delahoussaye, lived in Virginia with the boy, now 12, for 5
1/2 years before an Alexandria, Va., judge ruled that
the two men could not live together if Hedberg was to
continue to have custodial care of his son. Hedberg
then moved to Montgomery County, where he rented an
apartment because he could not afford to maintain the
house in Virginia without a second income.
Delahoussaye also moved to Montgomery County to be near
Hedberg and his son.
Sue Silber, a lawyer who will represent Hedberg
when the case returns to circuit court, said the new
ruling means that Hedberg will be able "to show that
it's in the best interest of this child for the
gentleman to be able to move back into his home, to have the
family reunited. We will show there is good reason for
the court to allow the family to live together."
Lawyers for Annica Detthow, the mother, could
appeal the new ruling to the court of appeals, but the
case probably will go directly back to circuit court,
said Mathew Staver, president and general counsel of
Liberty Counsel, a national antigay legal group that he said
"defends traditional families and marriage." Liberty
Counsel represented the mother in the appeals court.
"During that process we fully expect that we will
prevail," Staver said. "We believe the facts will show
that the best interests of the child dictate that the child
not be exposed to homosexual parents or homosexual activity."
But Shannon Minter, legal director for the
National Center for Lesbian Rights, said Maryland is
among the great majority of states that do not place
restrictions on gay couples having custody of children. (AP)