- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 25, 2007

ATLANTA (AP) — Sara Wheeler’s life has become a contradiction.

Once a proud lesbian, she’s now a pariah among homosexuals.

Once in a committed relationship with a female partner, she’s rethinking her sexuality.

And now she’s doing something she once would have considered unthinkable — arguing that homosexuals don’t have the legal right to adopt children.

Miss Wheeler is coming to grips with the fact that she’s become an outcast for taking this step in a custody fight for her child. But she says that isn’t what her fight is about.

“It’s about motherly rights.”

Sara, 36, and her partner, Missy, decided to start a family together and share the Wheeler last name. In 2000, Sara Wheeler gave birth to a son, Gavin, through artificial insemination. Two years later, they decided that Missy Wheeler should adopt the child and legally become his second parent.

Georgia law doesn’t specifically say whether such adoptions are legal, so the decision was up to a judge in the Atlanta area’s DeKalb County. After an adoption investigator determined that both partners wanted it, the judge cleared the request.

The couple’s relationship later soured. Missy Wheeler’s attorney, Nora Bushfield, said Sara became involved with someone else and wouldn’t let Missy and Gavin see each other.

Sara Wheeler acknowledged the other relationship, saying, “Regardless of my action, it doesn’t make me a bad mother.”

Sara and Missy Wheeler had split by July 2004, and Missy was fighting for joint custody of the boy.

The two sides do agree about one thing: The case is about a mother’s rights.

“Everybody seems to forget we’re not talking about lesbian rights,” Miss Bushfield says. “We’re talking about a child who’s been bonded with a mother.”

Sara Wheeler made the legal argument that because nothing in Georgia law specifically allowed such adoptions, the adoption should be tossed out.

Her first lawyers warned her that the case could set homosexual rights back a century.

She hired a new attorney and asked the DeKalb County court to toss the adoption that she previously had pushed for, arguing that it should never have been approved because it runs afoul of state law.

News of the tactic whipped up Atlanta’s homosexual community, one of the largest in the South. Lambda Legal, a homosexual rights group, made a legal filing with the Georgia Supreme Court supporting Missy Wheeler.

“There’s something about this case that’s just tragic,” said Greg Nevins, a lawyer for the group.

Laura Douglas-Brown, editor of Southern Voice, the city’s main homosexual newspaper, penned a column accusing Sara Wheeler of “self-hating.”

Her lawsuit seeking to throw out the adoption was rejected by the DeKalb County judge and then the state Court of Appeals. Then the Georgia Supreme Court, in a 4-3 vote in February, declined to hear the case. Only months earlier, the court had upheld the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex “marriage,” which Georgia voters overwhelmingly approved in 2004.

Sara Wheeler is asking the state Supreme Court to reconsider her case. Such a request rarely succeeds, but the narrow vote gives her hope that one justice might be swayed.

“There’s nothing that states this is an acceptable adoption,” she said. “If Georgia wants to allow it, it needs to make proper laws.”

Sara Wheeler knows she’s seen as a betrayer; but in a sense, she feels she was the one betrayed.

“Before I’m anything — gay or lesbian — I’m a mother,” she says. “And the most important thing is to make sure my son has a relationship with his biological mother.”

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