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Feb 22, 2009
In Georgia, a child custody hearing has caused controversy when judges stipulated that a gay dad could only see his children with the condition that he refrain from “exposing his children to his homosexual partners and friends". The father in question, Eric Mongerson, has decided to contest the ruling and has taken his case to the Georgia Supreme Court.

Background on Eric Mongerson That Led to the Controversial Terms

In October 2008 a case was brought before County Superior Court Judge Christopher Edwards which, on the face of it, seemed like a routine divorce proceeding and custody case. The couple in question were Eric Mongerson and his then wife Sandy Ehlers. The reason for the divorce was Mongerson’s infidelity and apparent homosexuality.

Through the course of the hearing, the court listened to testimony from Eric Mongerson’s eldest daughter that she had found a homoerotic magazine of her father’s which had men “doing things to each other”.  His then wife Sandy Ehlers also testified that her husband’s infidelity had meant that she had been forced to seek counseling for the children in order that they might recover from the emotional distress that was caused.

The Judge’s Conclusion on the Eric Mongerson Child Custody Case

Judge Edwards came back with a ruling containing a paramour clause, which said that “overnight company with a member of the opposite sex, or with any person deemed to be a paramour, unrelated by blood or marriage, in the presence of a child" was not to occur. This seems rather standard stuff, but Judge Edwards then chose to throw another mix into the cooking pot when he added:

“Additionally, [the] defendant is prohibited from exposing the children to his homosexual partners and friends.”

This ruling has drawn widespread criticism, with calls from gay rights groups that Judge Edwards has overstepped his bounds.

Reaction to the Eric Mongerson Custody Ruling

Pink News, an online UK based gay news publication, reported that Lambda Legal, a well known gay rights organization, had filed a petition on behalf of Mr. Mongerson, who had, in January, taken his case to the Supreme Court, and in that petition argues that, whilst, admittedly, the eldest child finding a questionable magazine was not an example of excellent parenting, contended that there was no reason to believe that exposure of the children to their father’s gay friends or lifestyle would, in fact, damage them at all, and that this addition to the paramour clause went too far and might even be interpreted as being homophobic.

Furthermore, the document went on to reiterate and expand this point when it said “that restrictions on custody arrangements should not be determined based on sexual orientation and that no evidence exists that contact with gay acquaintances of their father is harmful.”

Beth Litrell, a spokesperson for the southern office of Lambda Legal, said, "Placing a blanket ban on ‘exposure’ to gay people hardly helps a gay dad maintain his relationship with his children." Eric Mongerson has been given one-day-a-week visitation rights.

Litrell then said, “This order hinders Mr Mongerson’s ability to maintain his relationship with his children as he is under a court order to treat other gay people as pariahs based solely on their sexual orientation.”

It should be noted that the paramour clause can be circumvented should the parent and new lover get married. Obviously, this would be more difficult in Mr. Mongerson’s case as Georgia bans gay marriage and civil unions.
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Posted: Feb 22, 2009 5:00am


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Steve Williams
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Wakefield, United Kingdom
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