FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE | June 16, 2005
Court Says Father's Concerns About Son's Best Interests Should Not Have Been Ignored
(Annapolis, MD, June 16, 2005) — In a ruling received today the Maryland Court of Special Appeals said a gay father should have his day in court.
"This decision is a victory for common sense," said Shannon Minter, Legal Director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, who represented the father on appeal. "We are delighted that Mr. Hedberg will have an opportunity to proceed to protect his son and reunite his family under one roof. It's important that under Maryland law courts cannot restrict a parent's ability to live with a partner simply because the parent is lesbian or gay."
Ulf Hedberg and his ex-wife, residents of Virginia at the time, separated when their son was four years old. For the next five-and-a-half years, the child lived with Hedberg and his partner, Blaise Delahoussaye, in a suburban Virginia home the couple purchased together. The home had a back yard and was near a good school. Together, the two men provided a stable loving home for the child. After the boy's mother moved to Florida, she petitioned for custody. A Virginia court issued an order giving Mr. Hedberg physical custody of the boy but requiring Mr. Delahoussaye to move out of the family's home. In order to maintain two separate residences, the couple sold their house and moved into smaller apartments in Maryland. Though Mr. Delahoussaye visits his family as much as he can, the restriction keeps them all from living in the same home together.
"This decision is an important step on the road to reuniting this family. Our client can now show the trial court how the restriction requiring his long-time partner to live outside the home the family shared for many years makes no sense and only hurts his twelve year old son," said Susan Sommer, Senior Counsel at Lambda Legal, who represented the father in oral argument before the appeals court earlier this year.
A trial court in Maryland denied Mr. Hedberg's request to remove the restriction. The ruling today sends his case back to lower court for a full hearing. Mr. Hedberg has asked that the custody restriction be removed because of the drastic decline in quality of life it has caused for the child, and also because it is unconstitutional. The Virginia court based its decision on that state's sodomy law, which was struck down, along with 12 others nationwide, in Lambda Legal's landmark U.S. Supreme Court victory in 2003.
Maryland attorney Susan Silber of Silber & Perlman in Takoma Park represented Mr. Hedberg at the trial court in Maryland and continues to serve as co-counsel with Lambda Legal and NCLR on the appeal.
Lambda Legal is a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and those with HIV through impact litigation, education and public policy work.
The National Center for Lesbian Rights is a national legal organization committed to advancing the civil and human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their families through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education.