By Kathleen Gilbert

HELENA, Montana, October 7, 2009 ( – Montana's highest court has ruled that a married woman must give up full custody of her adopted children to a former lesbian lover who sued for parental rights.

Barbara Maniaci, the adoptive mother of a 9-year-old boy and a 6-year-old girl, ended her ten-year relationship with Michelle Kulstad in 2006.  Maniaci adopted the boy in 2001, and the girl in 2004, as the sole legal guardian.  In the year following the breakup, Kulstad began fighting for joint custody with Maniaci, who is now raising the children with her husband.

On Tuesday, Montana's Supreme Court ruled 6-1 to uphold a Missoula County District Court ruling last year granting joint custody to Kulstad.  The case was Montana's first regarding parental rights in a same-sex relationship.

“I want what every parent wants,” said Kulstad at a news conference outside the Supreme Court Tuesday.  “I want to love my children and care for them. I am looking forward to being in their lives for the rest of my life, to see them graduate from high school, get married and have children of their own.”

In his published opinion, Justice James Nelson equated the dispute to discrimination against homosexuals.

“Naming it for the evil it is, discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is an expression of bigotry,” he wrote. “Lesbian and gay Montanans must not be forced to fight to marry, to raise their children and to live with the same dignity that is accorded heterosexuals.”

It is uncertain whether Maniaci's lawyers will appeal the decision in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Critics of the ruling say the court imperiled parents' rights to raise their own children for the sake of advancing the homosexual agenda.  Dissenting Justice Jim Rice wrote that “The Court's decision will open a Pandora's Box of potential attacks upon the right of fit and capable parents to raise their own children.”

Jeff Laszloffy, president of the Montana Family Foundation, called the court's decision “egregious.”

“Basically, what the court did in this decision is said that no longer does a parent have to be declared unfit for a third party non-parent to be able to abridge the natural parents' rights and authorities over that child,” Laszloffy told (LSN).  “Now you just have to prove that that child has a psychological connection to you.  And you can apply for, fight for, sue for parental rights and it's a crapshoot, you might get them, you might not.”

While Laszloffy said he believed the issue of homosexual “rights” was not the original impetus behind the case, he noted, “I'm sure that the Montana Supreme Court is always looking for cases to push the homosexual agenda.”

Attorney Matt McReynolds with the Pacific Justice Institute, which filed an amicus brief in the case, agreed. 

“It actually seems like the plaintiff was favored in this case just because she was a lesbian,” Reynolds told LSN.  “It's fairly shocking how the Court wouldn't allow this person who had left the lesbian lifestyle to be freed from it – her and her children. 

“It's very disturbing that someone who wants to get out of this lifestyle can still be trapped in it for years to come … by someone who has no legal or adoptive relationship with the children.”

Last month, a Virginia woman caught in a custody battle with her former lesbian lover refused to follow a court mandate ordering her to hand over her seven-year-old daughter for a visitation.

Lisa Miller said that the judge threatened to transfer custody if she did not hand over daughter Isabella to Janet Jenkins, with whom Miller raised the child before left the lesbian lifestyle years ago.   Miller has steadfastly refused to allow the visitations since January 2008, saying Isabella spoke of suicide following one such visit, and complained that Jenkins forced her to bathe naked with her.

See related coverage:

Lisa Miller Menaced with Loss of Custody if She Fails to Deliver Daughter to Former Lesbian Partner

Child Forced to Endure Visitations with Mother's Former Lesbian Partner Suffers “Emotional Trauma”