ASHEVILLE, N. C. — A North Carolina mother says she hopes other gay and lesbian couples don’t have to suffer through her experience of having a Tennessee judge prevent her teenage children from living with her and her partner.
“It definitely makes the victory a lot sweeter knowing that not only did we win the case, but for other gays and lesbians across Tennessee, those judges aren’t going to be able to say, ‘you’re not good parents because you’re gay,’ or ‘you can’t have your kids because you’re gay,’ or ‘you can’t stay together,’” Angel Chandler told the Asheville Citizen-Times.
The so-called paramour clause was first imposed in May 2008 by Gibson County Chancellor George Ellis, prohibiting overnight stays by Chandler’s partner of more than 10 years, Mary Counce. The restriction was not requested by Chandler’s ex-husband and came despite an evaluation finding no harm to their children, who are now 15 and 17 years old.
Angel Chandler used to live in Gibson County, Tenn., but she and Counce now share a home in Black Mountain, N.C.
“I just thought it was insane when the judge said I couldn’t stay in the house from 11 to 7,” said Counce, who has two college-aged children of her own. “If we could have been married, I wouldn’t have been a paramour, but how can we be married when it’s not allowed? It’s a Catch-22 and they love that. Bigots love that kind of stuff.”
Chandler and Counce had maintained separate homes in order to comply with the custody agreement. But the two started living together again when that became a financial burden, effectively preventing the children from being able to visit.
The appeals court in Jackson, Tenn., struck down Ellis’ ruling last year. Ellis issued a new ruling in March, but imposed the paramour clause again, stating, “A paramour overnight, abuse of alcohol and abuse of drugs are clearly common-sense understanding that children can be adversely affected by such exposure … ”
In last week’s ruling, the appeals court said Ellis abused his discretion.
“The record is devoid of any evidence whatsoever to support the finding that a paramour provision is in the best interests of the children. In fact, the record contains evidence demonstrating that a paramour provision is contrary to the best interests of the children,” the court wrote.
Chandler said Ellis equated marriage with being a good parent.
“He acted like a marriage certificate hanging on the wall equaled good parenting because that’s all he really cared about,” Chandler said. “[He thought] if you’re gay, you’re not good parents and the evidence didn’t matter. There was nothing rational or logical about it. It was all just basically bias and bigotry.”