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Is bias against gay, lesbian, parents an issue for our time?

Illinois is officially in the rank of states that has legalized same-sex marriage. That status is due to be effective as of June 1 of this year. At that point, unless something else happens between now and then, Illinois will join 16 other states and the District of Columbia in allowing gays and lesbians to wed and divorce.

The movement toward broad acceptance of same-sex marriage is one that has been underway for a number of years, but full affirmation as a matter of law is something that has been a bit slower in coming. And according to psychologists at Drexel University in Pennsylvania, one area of family law where this has been quite obvious is in the handling child custody disputes.

Such matters are always sensitive and the overriding imperative courts are expected to follow is to make determinations in the best interest of the child. That can be a challenge and is why all parties to the proceedings should have the benefit of legal counsel.

What the Drexel researchers say they have found in their extensive review is that in many states the laws and the courts still allow the sexual orientation of a parent to be used as a factor in child custody rulings.

The upshot of this, they say, is that heterosexual parents are often favored, despite solid social science findings that they are no more effective in the parenting job than their same-sex ex-partners. All evidence aside, many gay and lesbian parents see custody rights limited and visitations unduly restricted.

The researchers say not only are the rights of parents infringed upon, but they say the discrimination runs the risk of hurting positive parent-child relationships. They conclude from their work that social service officials, courts and legislatures need to begin balancing the scales now because disputes between heterosexual and same-sex parents over custody are only likely to increase as gay marriage becomes legal everywhere.

Source: Drexel Now, "In Child Custody Disputes, LGBT Parents Face Bias in the Courts, New Drexel Review Finds," April 14, 2014

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