William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal


Joseph R. Price


In 1994, national media attention focused on the Virginia case Bottoms v. Bottoms, in which Kay Bottoms successfully fought to terminate her lesbian daughter Sharon's custody of Sharon's son, Tyler. Although the Court of Appeals of Virginia reversed the trial court's award of custody to Kay Bottoms, the Supreme Court of Virginia reversed the appellate court and returned custody to Tyler's grandmother. Sharon then sought modification of the visitation and custody order, but the trial court denied her petition and instead reduced and further restricted her visitation rights. In Bottoms III, the Court of Appeals of Virginia reversed the trial court's decision and remanded for reconsideration. This Comment uses the Bottoms case as a framework for analyzing state courts' approaches to determining homosexual parents' custody and visitation rights. Two approaches have emerged: the traditionalist approach, under which a trial court may consider a parent's homosexuality as evidence of moral unfitness inherently contrary to the best interests of the child, and the nexus approach, under which a homosexual parent's conduct, rather than status, is the pertinent consideration. The Comment concludes with a recommendation that courts adopt the conduct-focused nexus approach in order to afford homosexual parents a genuine opportunity to receive objective judicial consideration in custody and visitation contexts.