DeLong v. DeLong

Case No. 80637 (Sup. Ct. Mo. 1998)
Brief Filed: 6/98
Court: Supreme Court of Missouri
Year of Decision: 1998

Read the full-text amicus brief (PDF, 218KB)

Issue

Whether a lesbian mother may be denied custody solely on the basis of her sexual orientation rather than on the basis of what is in the best interests of the child

Index Topics

Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Parenting; Sexual Orientation (custody)

Facts

A Missouri trial court denied a lesbian mother custody of her daughter solely on the basis of her sexual orientation in accordance with prior appellate court decisions finding lesbian and gay parents per se unfit to have custody of a child. The Missouri appellate court rejected this per se rule and held that all child custody decisions involving a gay or lesbian parent should be decided according to the same standard used in evaluating the fitness of heterosexual parents — an individualized determination of the child's best interest. The father appealed the decision and the Supreme Court of Missouri agreed to review the decision.

APA's position

APA filed an amicus brief summarizing the existing research on children raised by lesbian and gay parents and the absence of any demonstrable connection between a person's sexual orientation and his or her fitness as a parent. The brief asserted that: (1) the appellate court's ruling that a mother's sexual orientation cannot be presumed to be detrimental to her children is supported by a considerable body of scientific research on children of lesbian parents, finding that children raised by gay parents are as healthy psychologically and socially as those raised by heterosexuals, and that there is no significant difference between the two groups on sexual identity and gender role issues; and (2) research on parenting issues indicates that lesbians and gay men are as fit parents as heterosexuals, homosexuality is not a mental disorder, and the two groups have comparable parenting skills.

Result

The Supreme Court of Missouri affirmed that the relevant test was the "best interests of the children" and that homosexual parents are not ipso facto unfit for custody. However, the Court decided that it was proper to consider the impact of homosexual or heterosexual misconduct on children, and affirmed the custody determination that had gone to the heterosexual parent. The Court did find the visitation restrictions imposed by the trial court to be too broad (the children were prohibited from being in the presence of anyone known to be a lesbian and any female with whom the mother was living who was not a relative). The Court remanded the visitation restrictions to the trial court to limit the conditions to apply only to individuals whose presence or conduct may be contrary to the best interests of the children.