Ga. high court issues two gay-friendly rulings

Add this share

imageThe Georgia Supreme Court on Monday issued rulings that overturn the conviction of a teacher in a lesbian relationship with a student and throw out a portion of a ruling that prevented a gay man from seeing his children.

In Chase v. the State of Georgia, the court overturned in a 5-2 vote a ruling by the Georgia Court of Appeals concerning a case involving a lesbian teacher in Richmond County who had sex with a teenage student. Melissa Lee Chase was 28 when she was arrested for having sex with one of her former students, who was 16. Chase was convicted of sexual assault and sentenced to 10 years in prison and five years on probation.

But the court ruled that the trial court erred in preventing Chase from arguing during her bench trial that the teen consented to the relationship.

“This appeal presents a straightforward question of law,” Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears writes in the majority opinion. “The question is whether, in November 2006, consent of the alleged victim was a defense to the crime of sexual assault of a person enrolled in school. We have concluded that it was, as long as the student had reached the legal age of consent. Accordingly, the trial court erred in preventing the defendant from presenting a consent defense at trial.”

The girl’s mother called police and reported the relationship after finding romantic notes from Chase in her daughter’s purse. During trial, the teen admitted to initiating the relationship with her former teacher at Harlem High School. Prosecutors argued that state law does not allow consent as a defense for the crimes Chase was charged with; the judge agreed as did the Georgia Court of Appeals. The state Supreme Court disagreed in its ruling on Monday.

“The plain language of the statute does not in any way indicate that the General Assembly intended to remove consent as a defense,” the majority states.

In a case from Fayette County, the state Supreme Court in a 7-0 ruling threw out part of a lower court’s decision that kept a divorced father from having his children meet his gay friends. The ruling upholds the trial court’s decision restricting contact between the children and their paternal grandparents, who abused the children, but says the lower court took the prohibition too far.

The father, Eric Duane Mongerson, was in the process of ending his 21-year marriage with Sandy Kay Ehlers Mongerson in 2007. The final divorce decree granted him limited visitation of their three minor children

“The blanket prohibition against exposure of the children to members of the gay and lesbian community who are acquainted with Husband is another matter,” Justice Robert Benham (photo) writes in the majority opinion. “There is no evidence in the record before us that any member of the excluded community has engaged in inappropriate conduct in the presence of the children or that the children would be adversely affected by exposure to any member of that community.”

“The prohibition against contact with any gay or lesbian person acquainted with Husband assumes, without evidentiary support, that the children will suffer harm from any such contact. Such an arbitrary classification based on sexual orientation flies in the face of our public policy that encourages divorced parents to participate in the raising of their children…and constitutes an abuse of discretion. We vacate the blanket prohibition against exposure of the children to Husband’s gay and lesbian acquaintances.”

Justice Harold Melton, in a concurring opinion with Justice George Carley, emphasized that a parent can be prohibited from exposing his or her children to gay men and lesbians if there is evidence that it could harm “the best interests of the children.”

Absent that, Melton writes, “a trial court abuses its discretion by prohibiting a parent from exercising their visitation rights while in the presence of such individuals (in this instance, Husband’s homosexual partners and friends.)”

Subscribe: We’ve got a weekly eblast.
Twitter: Oh, yeah. We tweet the news, too, so follow us.
Facebook: Become a fan of our page.
YouTube: Videos, too.


Project Q Atlanta goes on hiatus after 14 years

On Sept. 1, 2008, Project Q Atlanta promised a hyper-local “queer media diet” for Atlanta. The site set out to bring LGBTQ news, in-depth...

Photos catch Purple Dress Run invading Midtown

After three years of pandemic-inflicted limitations, Atlanta’s gay rugby squad let loose on one of its most popular events. The Atlanta Bucks Purple Dress...

Ooo Bearracuda: Photos from Bear Pride’s Main Event

The seventh annual Atlanta Bear Pride hit the ground running on Friday with packed houses at Woofs, Heretic and Future. Turned out, they hadn’t...

Atlanta Bear Pride set to go hard and long all weekend

That low, growing growl you hear is a nation of gay bears headed for Atlanta Bear Pride this weekend. By the time they arrive,...

PHOTOS: Armorettes bring back Easter Drag Race magic

Gay Atlanta’s queens of do-good drag brought the sunshine to a cloudy afternoon on Saturday when Heretic hosted the triumphant return of Armorettes Easter...