11.07.2005

Up on the radar (a post in the very fine original blog tradition)

Utah, a state that is known for being an ice-box of civil rights agitation, is currently facing yet another history-making moment. A moment where the powers that be are faced with the chance to prove themselves wise and benevolent and forward-facing or retreat still further into the primordial ooze in which they find it so comfy to snooze away the progress of time. What do you think will happen?

Wait, let me tell you what I'm talking about. Some of you may be aware that Utah's Supreme Court is deliberating on a very important lesbian custody case. Two women met, fell in love, and decided to create a child. The to-be-birthmother (Barlow) was an outspoken gay-rights activist here in Utah. In addition to creating as much paperwork as possible to protect their relationship and Jones' (non-bio mom) relationship with their child, the couple flew to Vermont and were joined in a Civil Union there. This was done not because such a thing is legal in Utah, but because such a thing would be a statement of their intent to create a family. When the child was 2 years old, and after a year of infertility (trying to get the non-bio mom pregnant with their second child) the couple split up. Barlow tried to keep Jones from seeing their daughter. Jones took her to court to uphold their contracts and maintain her relationship. And Jones won. Amazing. A non-bio mom in Utah actually got a lower court to uphold her in loco parentis relationship. Barlow was ordered to let Jones visit the girl.

Barlow has enlised the aid of the Alliance Defense Fund in her legal battle. They are being supported by the Sutherland Institute. In order to try to change the jursdiction of the case, Barlow moved herself and her daughter to Texas where in loco parentis is harder to prove. Though ordered to allow Jones visitation, Barlow has not complied. Jones has had to struggle for every moment of time with her daughter. She doesn't know where Barlow and their daughter live. She has no way of getting hold of them except through Barlow's lawyers. Barlow has appealed and appealed the lower court's rulings until the whole thing has ended up at the Utah Supreme Court.

Barlow and her hoard are saying that Jones NEVER was meant to be a parent. That she was simply a boarder in Jones' house. That Barlow has left the "revolving lesbian" lifestyle and does not want to expose her child to such an unhealthy way of life. That should the courts force her to let this "legal stranger" have access to her child, it will mean that any "nanny" or "roommate" will be able to take your child from you. Not only that they will be able to take your child from you, but that you will no longer have the right to protect your child from sin and perversion and Lifestyles To Which You Greatly Disapprove. What more terrifing thing can you tell a parent? I sit in fear that should this prove true some Republican somewhere will insist on taking my child to church and to political conventions and force her to watch FOX News. Egads! The fear that this woman is creating within this religious, intolerant, parental-rights state is enormous. The same brilliantly malicious legislators who brought us our anti-gay marriage amendment during the last election (who, by the way, told the voters that the amendment would NOT prevent employers from offering domestic-partner benefits -- so it really wouldn't hurt anybody and so there was no reason NOT to vote for the amendment, and that we gays were just freaking out over this for no good reason because it would not substantially hurt us -- and now quote the amendment as a reason why employers cannot be allowed to offer those benefits... but I digress) are now talking about creating legislation to "correct" any "activist ruling" handed down by the court. Lovely. As if things weren't hard enough here.

Here is a link to a local story on the situation. This is what Utah's local media considers a fair and balanced story.

If you would like to eat your lunch in peace, or, really, retain any belief in the inherent goodness of people, I do not recommend that you read this document.

What I love is the way everyone keeps focusing on Jones' affair, and not the planning, the 2 years of parenting, the 1 year of infertility, the Vermont civil union (which, though not valid in Utah now, has still not been dissolved, and if anything were to happen to DOMA or gay marriage on the level of the US Supreme Court, these women would find themselves still legally bound, and if Barlow manages to "find a man who can understand [her] past" she will be a bigamist, in the finest Utah tradition -- albeit a little topsy-turvey). But none of that really matters because JONES HAD AN AFFAIR and thus that proves that gay relationships are all about the sex, and are inherently unstable, and that Jones is a bad influence and would be an unfit mother were anyone ever to consider her a mother and that Barlow is truly the tromped-upon victim here who has pulled herself together and seen the light and wants to protect her daughter from the depravity embodied in this "legal stranger" who is making a political tool out of a child (not to mention that it is Barlow and her lawyers who keep pushing the issue and who keep getting in front of the cameras and politicizing the event). If Jones were a man, her affair would not be grounds to keep her from her child. Her affair wouldn't even be considered news. But because she's a lesbian, and on top of that a woman (the order in which people consider these facts here) such a fact is sensational and should make this an open-and-shut case. The fact that it doesn't has stymied the media and so they keep touting it about trying to make it pertinent.

Kristin and I have been following this story since it started. At times we have felt great hope for our family coming from the rulings sparked by the suit. At other times (like now) we feel great fear. We have done almost everything these women did. We haven't done Vermont, but we did do San Francisco. And while we haven't yet finished the process to make me a legal guardian of Julia, the legal guardianship that these women got for Jones seems to be doing little good. This case isn't over guardianship. Jones will never have guardianship over her daughter. At this point the best she can get is visitation. She'll only get to visit her daughter, never truly parent her again.

A little over a month ago, our local independant radio station aired a talk show featuring Jones and her lawyer. Though I love this particular talk show (just as I hate most others) it comes on at noon and I don't listen to it here at work. It seems ill-advised to listen to a radically-liberal talk show in the reception area of a Federal office. But this time I did listen to it. And I cried while I listened. Picture me, at my job, surrounded by lawyers and marble and hardwood and glass, crying. I had read the news stories, but I had not yet heard all the details. I hadn't heard about how hard Jones and Barlow had worked to try to protect against a just such a similar situation. I hadn't heard about Jones' struggle with infertility. And I cried for how generous Jones remains toward Barlow. Barlow has been charged with custodial interference for refusing to let Jones visit with her daughter. Still, Jones talks of the visits she has been allowed to have and speaks well of Barlow (well, much more kindly than I would or am). Such generosity could have been manufactured to gain support, but I doubt it, because bitterness would be understandable.

Since I listened to this story, I've met people who knew them, and heard more details which I won't put down here, but just break my heart further. And of course, my heart is breaking not only for Jones and her daughter, but for the specter of me that hangs in this case, and all the other non-bio moms out there who will be affected by the fallout. Because, in Utah (and a lot of other places), none of our families are safe, and still, all our families might get a lot more un-safe in the coming months. Even if it at first seems like something miraculous has happened.

You can listen to the program here. It's an hour.

Posted by Trista @ 9:50 AM

Read or Post a Comment

Oh god, that is so sad. I mean, I understand about horrible breakups, and not wanting to have anything to do with your ex anymore for whatever reason, but how can anyone justify splitting up a little kid from her mother? Biological or no, that is still her child and I can't imagine how awful this must be for her. I know I'm preaching to the choir here, but... damn. *sigh*

Posted by Blogger Anne @ 5:42 PM #
 

I'm optimistic. The questions posed by many of the Justices on Utah's Supreme Court are apt and "activist" or not, I'm not throwing in the towel yet.

Chief Justice Durham's question: "To the extent that a parent deliberately constructs a co-parenting situation . . . why shouldn't that parent be responsible for the consequences of creating that relationship?" is right on the money. I could be wrong, but I have a sense that the Court will do what's fair.

Yes, the Utah legislature - in all its well-educated glory - likely pass legislation which will be challenged (and likely overturned) by taxpayer dollars.

I could be wrong. But I could also be right! The Sutherland Institutes amicus brief regarding in loco parenis is absurd. If that's the best they've got, it's pretty thin. (Did I say I'm optimistic?)

Posted by Blogger breather @ 10:51 PM #
 

Aaaaaaaaaaaah! These cases terrify me. One of the parts that freaks me out here is that the bio mom was a queer activist! How do you go from one end of the spectrum to the other? How do you forget everything you ever were, believed, fought for?

And then - how do you do that to your kid? How can you be so blind and selfish that you can't see you're hurting your child? THAT I will never understand.

Posted by Blogger Jen @ 5:22 AM #
 

Trista,
THANK YOU for writing about this. i had heard about the case, but didn't realize how muddled it had become. It is insanely scary, and it is just what we need to hear about to push us to be more angry, more passionate, and more demanding of the rights OUR families deserve.

Posted by Blogger Amanda @ 3:06 PM #
 

Partner and I talked at length about this on the way to the RE office yesterday. The stupid thing about it is that all this wrangling does more harm to the kid than anything else. I just can't stand it. I'm going to listen to the show later when I come home, but for now, this tears me apart. Barlow just sounds like she's taken advantage of the current socio-political climate to get her own way. So scary.

Posted by Blogger Katie (WannaBeMom) @ 7:21 AM #
 

Wasn't there a similar case in VT, where the "ex-gay" person moved herself and the child to VA so that laws and courts would be more likely to be anti-gay? In that case, if I remember, VA actually ruled on the case while it was still pending in VT--which is not legal, and which they would never have done if one of the adults was a man. The part about these cases that always gets me is the way the custodial parent or legal parent can bring themselves to use anti-gay law and anti-gay sentiment against their ex. That's just plain old low down.

Posted by Blogger Shirky @ 11:25 AM #
 

Shirky, yes. VA is just horrible. And the two cases are very similar. The bio-mom in that case said of her ex-partner, "She has no more rights to this child than the midwife who was present at her birth."

Posted by Blogger Jen @ 8:49 AM #
 

Mossie Be:

Yes, I feel optimistic about the impending court decision. I mean, it could be ugly, but I'm thinking probably not. And that would be a HUGE step forward here in this little stubborn state.

What chills me is listening to good ole LaVar talking about legislation... because I have no faith that such legislation would be defeated in the legislature. I am positive that it would be voted into law.

And in order to challenge such a thing, you have to have lawyers willing to challenge it. I am thinking right at this moment how after amendment 3 passed, and Utah's own Attorney General said -- Challenge this. It will fall, someone just needs to challenge it. -- and I sat at a community meeting to discuss what we were going to do next, and our community leaders and lawyers laughed at the thought of mounting a legal challenge. Their words: If a legal challenge were to originate against these amendments it certainly wouldn't originate here. (emphasis theirs). Then they proceeded to tell us that this meant that it was even more important that we come and use their services to create contracts, contracts that they had assured everyone before the election that the amendment, if passed, would invalidate. (yes, yes, we all ignorant community members thought, that's what we should do, fork over thousands of dollars to these people for protection that only days before they had said would be useless) THOSE leaders and THOSE lawyers certainly wouldn't mount a legal challenge to any new homophobic legislation...

I think it's pretty telling that Jones' lawyer is not one who was known in our community.

But let me soak in your optimism for a moment...

Posted by Blogger Trista @ 2:48 PM #
 

I live in Utah and have never heard of this, but then I rarely listen to the news. This makes me sad on so many levels. :( And Julia is just beautiful.

Posted by Blogger A @ 7:14 PM #
 
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