Current Affairs

Lesbian custody battle exposes legal ambiguity

Christopher Hayes March 26, 2007
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A lesbian mother from the American state of Georgia caused outrage when she campaigned against the state’s gay adoption laws in order to seek custody of her son.

36-year old Sara Wheeler arguing that Georgia’s ambiguous position on gay adoption should reverse a decision which enabled her then partner, Missy Wheeler, to become the child’s second parent.

Wheeler gave birth to her son Gavin by artificial insemination in 2000.

Two years later the couple decided that Missy should adopt the child and become his second parent.

Georgia law doesn’t explicitly say whether gay parents can adopt a child.

The adoption was eventually granted by a judge in the Atlanta region’s DeKalb County after a parental investigation.

Sara Wheeler later broke up with Missy, who then demanded joint custody of the child.

Despite being warned by her lawyers that her actions could set gay rights back a century, Sara mounted a legal challenge on the grounds that Georgia law does not specifically allow gay adoption.

Both sides insist that the case is about a mother’s rights.

Sara’s tactics have caused a stir in Atlanta’s gay community and several gay rights groups have attacked her position.

The gay rights group Lambda Legal made a legal filing with the Georgia Supreme Court supporting Missy Wheeler.

Her lawsuit was eventually rejected by the DeKalb County judge and then the state Court of Appeals. The lawsuit failed to reach the Georgia Supreme Court when in February 2004, justices declined to hear the case in a 4-3 vote.

Sara admits that she has become alienated from the gay community and has had to rethink her sexuality. She no longer dates and doesn’t go to gay clubs or events.

In 2004, months before the decision not to hear Sara’s case at the Georgia Supreme Court, voters overwhelmingly approved the state’s constitutional ban on gay marriage.

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