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Description de l’éditeur

On November 15, 1967, Ellen Nadler appeared before the honorable Justice Joseph Babich in the Superior Court of California, Sacramento County. It was the second time in two months .she had argued for custody of her five-year old daughter. A little more than a month earlier, on October 5, Justice Babich had awarded custody of the child to Nadler's ex-husband solely on the basis of the mother's lesbianism. The judge had done so without hearing any additional evidence in the case, stating that, "the homosexuality of plaintiff as a matter of law constitutes her not a fit or proper person to have the care, custody and control of ... the minor child of the parties hereto." (1) Ellen Nadler's trial marked the beginning of decades of lesbian mother and gay father custody cases, as men and women fought for the right to express their same-sex sexual orientation and remain parents at the same time. This article examines the early history of lesbian and gay custody conflicts from 1967 to 1985 through an analysis of one hundred and twenty-two cases in which lesbian or gay parenting was an issue, based on court transcripts, newspaper articles, oral histories, professional journals, personal letters, and lesbian and gay periodicals. It argues that institutional anti-gay and lesbian prejudice constructed same-sex sexuality as antithetical to patenting, actively stripped many lesbians and gay men of their parental tights, and kept a whole generation of lesbian and gay parents in fear of being estranged from their children. It further shows, however, that these gay and lesbian custody battles slowly chipped away at legal and social prejudices. In the 1970s, as large numbers of lesbians and gay men openly declared their sexuality, they challenged the longstanding cultural assumption that lesbians and gay men could not be parents. The greater visibility of gay and lesbian communities increased the risk of exposure and therefore loss of custody for many lesbian and gay parents, and in the eighteen years between 1967 and 1985, lesbian and gay parents lost many mote court battles than they won. By 1985, however, an increasing number of state courts were overturning decisions that had denied lesbian mothers and gay fathers custody and visitation rights. This essay examines these critical early years of custody cases to reveal the powerful cultural link between sexual orientation and the family and its slow and arduous shift. Lesbians and gay men had to fight hard to change the perception of parenting as exclusively heterosexual and the legal practices that supported it. Their uphill battle is an important part of both why and how domestic, parental, and marital rights came to be at the center of the modern lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) civil rights movement by the end of the twentieth century. (2)

22 juin
Journal of Social History

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