Montana Supremes Find for Lesbian Parent
October 7th, 2009
Back in 1995 Barbara Maniaci met Michelle Kulstad and they fell in love. In 1996 Kulstad moved from Seattle to Montana to be with Maniaci and they exchanged rings on March 18, 1996.
As time went on, the ladies decided to bring children into their lives so in 2001 the adopted a little boy. Three years later a little girl came into the family. They participated equally in the parenting of these children.
Now as Montana, their home state, does not allow for same-sex couple adoptions, they decided that Maniaci was the better adoption applicant. This proved to be an unfortunate choice.
in 2006, after a decade together, the couple split up and Maniaci tried to exclude Kulstad from her share of their acquisitions and from access to her children.
Yesterday, the Supreme Court of Montana found, by a 6 – 1 decision, that Kulstad could not be denied her parental rights. The decision is not all that surprising. But far more interesting are the statements and positions of some people involved.
Dr. Trayce Hansen
First let’s look at one small item in the court’s order. When describing the facts of the proceedings, one thing lept out at me:
The court-appointed expert, Dr. Miller, presented testimony regarding her educational background and her parenting plan evaluation.Kulstad presented testimony by Dr. Silverman and Suzanne Dixon, M.D. (Dr. Dixon). Trayce Hansen, Ph.D. (Dr. Hansen), testified for Maniaci.
Silverman was a court appointee. Miller was a specialist in clinical psychology specializing in the protection of children. Who, though, is Hansen.
Dr. Hansen admitted on cross-examination that parenting evaluations represented a new area for her and that she never actually had prepared one. Dr. Hansen never had been qualified as an expert witness by any court. Dr. Hansen never had been retained by any party as an expert witness. Dr. Hansen’s psychology practice involved geriatric patients. Dr. Hansen conceded that she currently did not work with children and had fewer than four years of professional experience after earning her Ph.D. She had worked as a research assistant and had published one article in the journal Personality Assessment in a forensic-type situation.
Why, then, was Hansen presented as a witness credible enough to attack Dr. Miller and the state’s entire evaluation process? Well, a clue can be found in the words of Attorney Matt McReynolds with the Pacific Justice Institute (Lifesite)
“It’s fairly shocking how the Court wouldn’t allow this person who had left the lesbian lifestyle to be freed from it – her and her children.
“It’s very disturbing that someone who wants to get out of this lifestyle can still be trapped in it for years to come …
Barbara Maniaci – who has since married a man – is apparently ex-gay. So we are not really talking about a child custody dispute; rather, we are talking about another battle in the Great Anti-Gay Culture War in which children are pawns of anti-gay and ex-gay activists.
Maniaci’s was not represented by the highest profile divorce attorneys in Montana; her counsel was the anti-gay activist legal group Alliance Defense Fund. And they selected Hansen as their expert witness. Because while Trayce Hansen may know little to nothing about child psychology, when it comes to anti-gay activism she is no novice.
In June of last year, Dr. Hansen issued a press release breathlessly declaring, “Children raised by openly homosexual parents are more likely to engage in homosexual behavior themselves.” This was a follow up to her ” 5 Reasons Why Same-Sex Marriage Will Harm Children.”
What Hansen forgets to reveal in her arguments is that as a research assistant working with geriatric patients, she has no more qualification to make such claims than do I. But, like many anti-gay activists, she’s not above using her title deceptively to achieve her dishonest goals.
The court was not impressed.
The court noted that, contrary to Dr. Hansen’s testimony, the APA concludes that no evidence suggests that same-sex couples are unfit to be parents, or that psychosocial development among children of same-sex couples would be compromised in any respect.
Perhaps that can serve as a warning to anti-gay activists: arguments based solely in animus that are contradicted by evidence do not serve you well in court. Just because you choose to believe your own bogus claims and dubious “studies” does not help you when facing judges that are not blinded by a desire to believe the worst about gay people.
Justice James C. Nelson
Judge Nelson concurred with the findings of the court. But he had a few more things to add to his conclusions.
Sadly, however, this case represents yet another instance in which fellow Montanans, who happen to be lesbian or gay, are forced to battle for their fundamental rights to love who they want, to form intimate associations, to form family relationships, and to have and raise children—all elemental, natural rights that are accorded, presumptively and without thought or hesitation, to heterosexuals.
I stand by my concurring opinion. Unfortunately, though, nothing has changed. I am convinced that until our courts, as a matter of law, accept homosexuals as equal participants with heterosexuals in our society, each person with exactly the same civil and natural rights,
lesbian and gay citizens will continue to suffer homophobic discrimination. Regrettably, this sort of discrimination is both socially acceptable and politically popular.
Naming it for the evil it is, discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is an expression of bigotry. And, whether rationalized on the basis of majoritarian morality, partisan ideology, or religious tenets, homophobic discrimination is still bigotry. It cannot be justified; it cannot be legalized; it cannot be constitutionalized.
Justice Jim Rice
Justice Rice has decided that this is all a dispute between the “natural parent” and some “third party” seeking to destroy “the constitutional rights of a natural parent to parent his or her child”.
Because there is something more “natural parenty” about the one partner who was allowed to adopt than there is about the other partner who the state would not allow to co-adopt. Being the one allowed to sign is all that matters to Rice, not whether both parents provided a parental role and their intention was consistently from the beginning to raise the children jointly.
From its emphasis on the facts of this case, it is apparent that the Court has found Kulstad’s case to be factually compelling, as did the District Court, and, thus, has ruled in her favor. But the Court has not acknowledged the significance of the most fundamental facts of this case: Maniaci is a parent, and Kulstad is not.
A legacy of this decision is the legion of parents who will be forced to litigate in order to protect the rights that the Constitution once guaranteed to them. A single parent must now consider whether a new romantic relationship will jeopardize the right to parent her or his children by way of a future third party parenting claim. Other like situations abound.
There will be further consequences as well. This case may well be reported as a legal victory for the rights of same-sex couples. Because both sides have stated that the parties’ gender is not a determinative issue in this case, neither the Court nor this dissent has discussed it. Regardless, the implications of the decision go far beyond the gender of the particular parties at issue here. There are parameters in neither the statute nor this decision that limit the kind or number of parties and relationships that will be now subject to parenting claims. Before this decision, protection of parental constitutional rights, which required termination of a parent’s rights before granting a parental interest to a third party, necessarily, by biology and the adoption laws, limited the number of parents a child could have. However, those inherent limits have now been removed by the Court. Consequently,
what if three or four adult partners develop a “parent-child relationship” with a child? Multiple-party clusters raising children, or polyamorous “families,” are the next wave in societal relationship experimentation.
Ah, yes. If we let the gays be parents then it’s a slippery slope to polygamy. Will someone please think of the children.
Somehow I don’t think Justice Rice will be invited to Thanksgiving Dinner at Justice Nelson’s home.