[oasis][columns]

Laws allow children to be taken from gay parents

by Kevyn Jacobs
August 1996

Rage and anguish. Those are the words that most accurately described what I felt Friday evening while watching CNN.

I am not talking about the Oklahoma City terrorist bombing. Oh, the bombing certainly helped set my mood that evening; the thought that far right wing American terrorist groups would do such a thing wounded my pride in my country. I'm not proud of it, but I confess that I expected the terrorists would be Middle Easterners. The phrase "American terrorist group" seems oxymoronic to me. The concept is alien.

No, the news event that pierced my soul Friday evening was the case of Sharon Bottoms and her 3-year-old son, Tyler.

The Virginia Supreme Court declared Friday that Sharon Bottoms was an "unfit mother" and decreed that her son be taken out of her custody.

Why?

Because Sharon Bottoms is a lesbian.

Many of you have heard about the Sharon Bottoms case. This Virginia case made headlines last year when Sharon's mother, unhappy that her daughter was in a marriage relationship with another woman, sued for custody of her grandson Tyler. The elder Bottoms was afraid that Tyler would grow up "confused" if raised in a household with two moms.

A lower-court judge agreed, saying that, as a lesbian, Sharon was "morally unfit" to be a mother. The judge ordered that custody of Tyler be given to his grandmother.

The decision was reversed on appeal and went to the Virginia Supreme Court, which has now said that Sharon is indeed an "unfit mother" because she is a lesbian.

One of the reasons cited by the lower-court judge for his decision to declare Sharon "unfit" was the fact that her being in a lesbian relationship meant that she was violating the Virginia sodomy laws, dubbed the "crimes against nature" laws. Sharon was therefore a de facto criminal.

And that hit me hard. I am also a de facto criminal. Kansas also has "crimes against nature" laws: Kansas Statutes Annotated 21-3505, the Criminal Sodomy Law, which declares me to be a criminal.

I am de facto an "unfit parent" because of my sexuality. Can my children be taken away from me by the state just because I am gay? Yes. If I and my husband someday decide to raise a family together, we'll have to be looking over our shoulders all the time, wondering when the government would come and rip our children away from us because we dared to love other men.

And people wonder why LesBiGayTrans people are so angry, so militant?

Who, in all the world, can be so angry, so militant, as a parent who sees their child threatened?

People ask why gays are so anxious to get state sodomy laws, like Kansas', off the books, when the laws are almost never enforced.

My answer is that even if no one is convicted of sodomy, the laws are used to classify homosexuals as criminals, and used as a weapon to harass us.

Or declare us "unfit mothers." And then they dare to tell us that we "have all the same rights as every other American," that we don't need to have any "special rights" laws to protect us.

"Gays don't need protection," they tell us.

But how many heterosexuals have to worry about having their children taken away from them, just because they are in a heterosexual relationship? Answer: zero.

Just last week, I wrote a column about the dangers of an "Us vs. Them" mentality. But it is so hard not to fall into such a mentality when there really IS a "them" out there, a "them" that is trying to steal our children away from us.

Oh yes, I am enraged. Rage felt because of the injustice done to lesbian and gay families everywhere last Friday. Words cannot convey the rage I feel at the injustice done to me, personally, by that court in Virginia, which has set a legal precedent to declare me, and all LesBiGayTrans people, as "unfit parents."

And I also feel anguish. I feel the anguish of a loving mother who has had her child taken from her.

Rage and anguish.


Kevyn Jacobs is a sophomore in art at Kansas State University. From January to December 1995, Jacobs wrote a queer-themed column in the Kansas State Collegian. The columns are being reprinted in Oasis in chronological order with permission of the author.
©1996 Oasis Magazine. All Rights Reserved.