How was the child custody case "Bottoms v Bottoms" a significant case for gay rights?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Bottoms v. Bottoms was a significant case for the rights of gay and lesbian people because it spoke to inherent social problems that confronted homosexuals in America.  The case was significant in this regard for a couple of reasons.  The first is the wording of the ruling, itself.  The court ruled against Sharon Bottoms, Tyler's mother, because the court deemed her as a "criminal" due to how homosexuality was against the law in Virginia.  The court argued that Bottoms had “admitted in this court that she is living in an active homosexual relationship.” As a result, “the mother’s conduct is illegal. . . . Her conduct is immoral and . . . renders her an unfit parent.”  Even though the child's father suggested that it was wrong to take away the child from Bottoms, even testifying on her behalf, the court declared Bottoms as unfit because she was gay.  

The case was significant because it triggered a social movement that advocated a greater understanding of the social values that confronted people who were gay and lesbian.  The social climate was revealed in Bottoms v. Bottoms and thus provided a clear example of the need to transform what is into what can and should be: "The ruling galvanized gay activists — many of them lesbian moms like Sharon — who held stroll-ins (rallies with empty baby strollers) and protests in Virginia and outside the state."   The case presented a clear example of how social values needed to change.  It was evident that displacing the child from the birth- mother would not be beneficial.  Yet, the Court's decision was made because of the belief that gay and lesbian people were "criminal," "immoral," and would naturally be "unfit" parents .  The case demonstrated the extent to which people who were homosexual were seen by the larger social and legal element.  The result of the case was to begin the process of moving social elements to a more progressive state.  I think that the advances that can be seen since the case is a direct reflection of the outcry against the Court's ruling. In this regard, the case has to be seen as significant because of the social change that followed it.