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Penn. Supreme Court extends same-sex parental rights

WASHINGTON (BP)–The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ruled that parental rights can grow out of homosexual relationships, setting a precedent for non-biological parents seeking custody rights of children they helped raise.

In a 5-2 decision, the state Supreme Court in late December ruled that a Cambria County woman, Tracie Binaut, had the right to seek shared custody of and visitation rights with a child born to her former lesbian partner, Lorrie Mangus.

The ruling gives homosexual couples the same right as heterosexual couples to seek child custody and visitation after a relationship breaks apart. The ruling allows for Binaut to return to lower courts for a child custody hearing.

The Center for Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights, a Philadelphia-based homosexual rights group, served as co-counsel for Binaut in her attempt to win custody from Mangus. The center worked with the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund.

“This is a great disappointment to a very large broad-based coalition of groups in Pennsylvania, as well as individuals,” said Lou Sheldon, chairman of the Traditional Values Coalition.

Sheldon said the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling will have strong societal implications. “This is very devastating because we know from a sociological standpoint that the best setting for a child is with one man and one woman. It has been proven again and again that the chemistry of a man and the chemistry of a woman are different; that is what a child needs,” he said.

Meanwhile, Tiffany L. Palmer, legal director for the Center for Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights, said, “This case is an important affirmation of the principle that parents should retain rights and responsibilities after they separate, even if they are same-sex parents.”

Stacey L. Sobel, executive director for the center, said homosexual individuals not biologically related to a child can nevertheless play a significant role in parenting.

“Our courts should recognize the significant role of gay and lesbian non-biological parents raising children today,” she said. “The court made the right decision to support the child’s best interests in this case by allowing the child the opportunity to continue a relationship with both parents.”

The child, an 8-year-old girl, was conceived through artificial insemination in 1993. “The women shared day-to-day childrearing and decision-making responsibilities until they separated three years after the child’s birth,” according to the Center for Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights.

Pat Louge, senior counsel for the Lambda Legal Defense, represented Binaut and argued the case. “I think it is a great result and what I appreciate about it is that it treats this child and this parent-child relationship the same as the state of Pennsylvania has treated other relationships,” she said.

Louge said the case was very important for Pennsylvania law. “The importance for Pennsylvania is that there are a lot of families that may not have the full protection of the law with respect to the adult relationships, but still the parent-child relationship, who the child sees everyday as their parent, is the concern,” she said.

Sheldon disagreed. “We were very disappointed that the Supreme Court did not take into any serious consideration any other blood family members but passed the baton to a person who is not a blood member,” he said.

“The Supreme Court totally has done a 180-degree turn on parental rights in making this decision,” Sheldon said. “I think that they have incurred the anger of a lot of people and I think that people do not want the family unit tampered with.”
Pyeatt is a staff writer with www.CNSNews.com. Used by permission.

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