Supreme Court rules in favor of Westboro Baptist

Phelps pickets from a July 2010 Dallas appearance

By an 8-1 decision, the Supreme Court upheld the right of Westboro Baptist Church to picket military funerals, according to Associated Press.

From the decision:

“Speech is powerful. It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and — as it did here — inflict great pain. On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker.”

The father of a Marine killed in Iraq in 2006 sued the Phelps clan for picketing at the funeral. He called the group’s actions targeted harassment and invasion of privacy. The purpose of the picketing was to purposely inflict pain.

In a jury trial, the father was awarded $11 million that was reduced to $5 million by the judge. On appeal, the ruling was overturned and the judgment thrown out. This ruling upholds the appeals court.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion. The dissenting vote came from Justice Samuel Alito.

A group of 21 news organizations filed a brief siding with the Phelps group based on preserving free speech rights.

—  David Taffet

Arkansas Supreme Court grants visitation rights to non-biological co-mom

Justice Donald L. Corbin

In a 5-2 decision, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled on Feb. 17 that a non-biological lesbian co-parent should be granted visitation rights.

In the case of Bethany v. Jones, the high court upheld the ruling of a lower court, even though Arkansas law forbids adoption by cohabiting same-sex couples. The decision was written by Associate Justice Donald L. Corbin.

The decision lists these as undisputed facts:

Bethany and Jones were same-sex partners from 2000 until 2008.

In 2003, the parties purchased a home together, with both of their names listed on the mortgage.

In 2004, the parties began to take steps toward having a family. A male friend of Jones’s agreed to donate sperm. Bethany agreed to carry the child because Jones was experiencing some health issues, including reproductive problems.

Through the process of artificial insemination, Bethany became pregnant, and the minor child was born in 2005.

After the child’s birth, Jones stayed home with the child and her parents became the child’s grandparents. Bethany has no relationship with her family so they were not involved in the child’s care.

In 2008, the couple split up. At that time, they shared custody. But Bethany began a relationship with another woman who is also raising a child and she wanted to end Jones’ involvement and denied her visitation rights.

Jones’ filed for breach of contract. Bethany charged her former partner had no standing.

The court found Jones’ claims similar to that of a step-parent and decided that since they had planned to raise the child together at the time of birth and Jones had provided care for the child until the break up, she did have visitation rights.

—  David Taffet