I Spy with My Judge[y] Eye: Family, Family, Not a Family

by Shaker Thealogian

In West Tennessee, Chancellor George Ellis of the 28th Judicial District has imposed a paramour restriction on the custody agreement between Angel Chandler and her ex-husband that restricts her partner of nine years from spending the night when her two children are in the home. Ms. Chandler's ex-husband DID NOT REQUEST this restriction, but the judge took it upon himself to insure that the children not be exposed to the trauma of having a more than one loving parent in their home, despite a court-ordered psychological evaluation of all the parties having noted the partner was a positive influence on the children.

The reason for the restriction? Angel Chandler's partner is a woman.
"This decision has been disruptive to our family," she said. "We lived together in a stable, functioning family, and this was rather shocking to all of us. This is about the person we choose to be with, not about what my ex-husband asked for or what's in the best interest of the children. "The judge decided to interfere, and it's had a very negative affect in our lives." Efforts to reach Ellis were unsuccessful. According to the appeal filing, he cited local law and precedent for the paramour clause.
"Local Law" is quite relevant in this case considering the 2006 Marriage Protection Act (Same Sex Marriage Ban) that passed in the state with an 80% margin. Even in one of the most progressive counties, Davidson County, Nashville, where 60% of the vote went for Obama in 2008 (and an additional 1% combined went to Nader and McKinney), 68% of voters supported the same sex marriage ban in 2006.

The campaign for the "Marriage Protection Act" set many of the arguments up for the 2008 California Prop 8 initiative. Similar memes: Preachers will be thrown in jail if they refuse to marry gays, children will have to study the "gay lifestyle" as part of school curriculum, etc. The rightwing lies, however, were overshadowed by the even more incendiary senatorial campaign between Harold Ford Jr. and Bob Corker–one of the most openly racist campaigns in recent history. Ford, an African American candidate, was attacked by the Corker campaign in ads so wildly racist that one might first suspect they were satire.

The rightwing memes and lies were effective in Tennessee.

Paul Cates, an ACLU spokesman who is helping to appeal the case, remarked: "A straight couple in the same situation would have a constitutional claim. … But they can get married. Same-sex couples don't have that, and Tennessee doesn't recognize (gay) marriage outside of the state."

When citizens of Tennessee voted to "protect marriage." did many understand that they were voting to dismantle, harass, and displace families? Perhaps many did, but the empty cries of preacher discrimination and "what about the children" covered up the real discrimination and the real children of gay and lesbian parents.

Currently, Ms. Chandler, her partner, and her children have moved to a duplex where they can interact as a family during the day, but at night Ms. Chandler's partner is exiled to the other unit to sleep. This is a financial as well as emotional burden on the whole family.
"Unfortunately, this case is an all-too-familiar example of how unfairly lesbian and gay parents are treated in custody and visitation proceedings," said Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the ACLU of Tennessee.

"All the children's health and welfare organizations have long recognized that lesbian and gay parents are just as capable of being good parents as straight couples, and their children are just as well adjusted.

"We're hopeful the Tennessee courts will come to that realization, too."
These gay marriage bans have consequences beyond preventing same-sex couples from getting married. Some go as far to dismantle domestic violence protections, adoption rights, custody rights, cohabitation rights, and so forth. It's not just banning that which isn't yet an established practice*, but taking away hard-earned rights won through decades of advocacy. The goal of these bans is not to "protect marriage," but to terrorize families and punish people for defying the far right's vision of what a family should be.


* I say "isn't yet an established practice" instead of "isn't a Right," because Same Sex Marriage is a Right; after all the Constitution is a liberal document, and since the only argument against SSM is based in religious dogma not even remotely endorsed by every religion, and we are a society in which there is not established state religion, civil SSM between two consenting adults is already Constitutional, whether it has been ruled so or not.

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