- The Washington Times - Monday, November 17, 2003

DENVER — Dr. Cheryl Clark, the Christian ex-lesbian embroiled in a custody battle with her former partner, has no intention of exposing her daughter to homophobic ideas, according to her attorney.

“Our client is not homophobic,” attorney James Rouse said in an interview with The Washington Times. “She doesn’t want to teach hate. Some of her best friends and co-workers are homosexual. She doesn’t hate them or fear them, and she doesn’t want to teach her child to hate or fear them.”

On the other hand, he noted that her former partner, Elsey McLeod, has been critical of Dr. Clark’s church and her religion. Yet the Denver judge who ordered Dr. Clark in April to avoid exposing her daughter to anything “that can be considered homophobic” placed no speech restrictions on Miss McLeod.

Dr. Clark filed an appeal last month challenging the judge’s order, which came after Miss McLeod complained to the court that Dr. Clark’s church displayed Focus on the Family and Promise Keepers literature in its foyer.

Dr. Clark’s supporters argue that the judge’s ruling places an unconstitutional restriction on her freedom of expression and religion, as well as her daughter’s.

Depending on the definition of “homophobic,” they say the order could prevent her from participating in activities ranging from reading the Bible to attending a wedding. And Dr. Clark’s attorney also called the stipulation a setup excuse to take custody away from his client.

“What if the child goes to a youth conference or retreat when Cheryl isn’t there?” Mr. Rouse said. “It’s a very vague type of order that’s a setup for failure.”

Attorneys for Miss McLeod have declined to comment until they file their response to Dr. Clark’s appeal. Their brief is expected in the Colorado Court of Appeals by Dec. 1.

Julie Tolleson, a lawyer and spokeswoman for Equal Rights Colorado, a homosexual rights group, argued that the judge’s order was hardly atypical. In child-custody cases, she said, parents are routinely ordered to avoid disparaging each other in the presence of their children.

To strike the order would single out homosexuality as an acceptable topic for criticism, she said.

“There’s really nothing novel about this order except that Doctor Clark is seeking an exception for antigay speech that doesn’t exist for any other kind of divisive speech,” Miss Tolleson said.

By the same token, she agreed that it would be reasonable to place a similar ban on Miss McLeod. “I think those restrictions should be applied equally,” she said. “Unless you’ve got one parent who wasn’t engaging in such speech, I think there should be a level playing field.”

Jim Cameron, president of the Rocky Mountain Family Council, called the order a “blatant infringement on freedom of speech.” His organization filed a brief in support of Dr. Clark during the trial phase.

“I’m just appalled by the whole order,” Mr. Cameron said. “It reflects a strong bias within this particular court, and a growing hostility within the judicial community toward people’s desire to express reasonable religious faith.”

But the Rev. Phil Campbell of the Park Hill Congregational Church said that Dr. Clark’s First Amendment rights should take a back seat to what he called “the best interests of the child.”

“I believe those interests supersede one parent’s freedom to practice her religion,” said Mr. Campbell, who heads the Colorado Clergy for Equality in Marriage, which backs homosexual “marriage.”

The appeal also challenges the court’s decision to grant Miss McLeod joint custody. The decision gave Miss McLeod “psychological parent” status, even though she’s unrelated to the child and Dr. Clark is the child’s adoptive mother.

“The point is not that this kind of thing goes on in divorce cases; the point is that these two weren’t married,” Mr. Rouse said. “The trial judge has skipped gay marriage and gone straight to gay divorce.”

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