Decision finds Chile violated lesbian’s human rights

(Santiago, Chile, April 8, 2010 — The National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) hails a landmark decision by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) rebuking a Chilean Supreme Court ruling in which a woman lost custody of her children for the sole reason that she is a lesbian. The IACHR found that “the Chilean state had violated Karen Atala Riffo’s right to live free from discrimination” when it revoked Atala’s custody of her children because she was living with her lesbian partner.

On May 31, 2004, a Chilean Court ordered Atala, herself a judge in Chile, to relinquish custody of her three children to her estranged husband because she is a lesbian and living with her female partner. The Supreme Court of Chile based its decision on the long-discredited and unsupportable notion that being raised by lesbian parents is harmful for children. With no legal recourse left in Chile, Atala took her case to the IACHR, the principal human rights body of the Organization of American States based in Washington, D.C.

NCLR, along with the New York City Bar Association, Human Rights Watch, International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, International Women’s Human Rights Law Clinic at the City University of New York, Lawyers for Children, Inc., Legal Aid Society of New York, and Legal Momentum, filed an amicus brief in support of Atala, arguing that the Court’s decision is contrary to the weight of international authority.

“Decades of social science research have shown that a parent’s sexual orientation has absolutely no effect on their ability to be a good parent. No child should ever be separated from his or her mother just because the court disapproves of the parent’s relationship,” said Cathy Sakimura, Staff Attorney and Family Protection Project Coordinator at the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

The IACHR urged the Chilean state to make reparations and to adopt “legislation, policies and programmes” to prohibit and eradicate discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights is a national legal organization committed to advancing the civil and human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their families through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education.