Collin County Judge Invokes "Morality Clause" to Split Up Lesbian Couple

A while back, before his father retired as district attorney against a backdrop of small-town political intrigue, Collin County District Judge John Roach Jr. described his philosophy on family law in a less-than-hard-hitting interview with Dallas Child.

His "obvious passion spill[ing] over in precise speech honed by years in the courtroom," he spoke of the importance of ensuring that children in custody cases wind up in a strong family environment with loving, involved parents.

"I often tell people I would not want them to make decisions about my kids -- why would you want me to make decisions about yours?" he said. "It is certainly my job to make these decisions; I make the decisions when I have to. However, parents going through divorce need to agree to disagree as to why, how or whose fault it is and focus on the kids. Your spouse may make a sorry husband or wife, but it does not mean you have to be sorry parents."

Roach wasn't asked in the interview, nor did he volunteer, how he views same-sex relationships. The Dallas Voice gives us a hint:

Page Price and Carolyn Compton have been together for almost three years, but a Collin County judge is forcing them apart.

Judge John Roach Jr., a Republican who presides over the 296th District Court, enforced the "morality clause" in Compton's divorce papers on Tuesday, May 7. Under the clause, someone who has a "dating or intimate relationship" with the person or is not related "by blood or marriage" is not allowed after 9 p.m. when the children are present. Price was given 30 days to move out of the home because the children live with the couple.

None of this would be an issue if Price and Compton were married, but this is Texas, where gay marriage is explicitly barred by the state constitution.

See also In the Collin County Courthouse, Due Process has a Funny Way of Expressing Itself: Payback, Personal Vendettas and Overzealous Prosecutions

Right now, we don't have a lot of context for the decision. When we contacted him Tuesday, Compton's attorney promised to issue a statement later in the week. He said this morning to expect it later today. For the moment, we'll have to rely on Price's assertion in a Facebook post forwarded to us last week that she and Compton have been together for three years and "have a very happy and healthy home" and that the children "are all happy and well adjusted."

Gay rights advocacy group Lambda Legal is already watching the case closely. Ken Upton Jr., the organization's senior attorney in Dallas, told the Voice that Roach's decision would likely be overturned on appeal if it's true that Price and Compton have a stable relationship. He predicted the case could end up setting a precedent for how morality clauses are handled when it comes to same-sex couples.

Update on May 20: Compton and Price's attorneys, Barrett Stern and Michael Dement, released their statement today. They write that Compton's family court hearing earlier this month before was a partial victory, since Judge Roach refused her former husband's request to have her held in contempt, jailed, and fined for each of 181 alleged violations of the morality clause.

We are disappointed, however, that the Court decided to clarify the morality clause in an attempt to make it enforceable. The Court ordered Ms. Compton to comply with the clarification within 30 days. This has the effect of kicking Ms. Price, Ms. Compton's partner of more than two years, out of the home they share. Ms. Compton and Ms. Price plan to comply with the Courts clarification order, even though it will be disruptive to their family and has the potential of being harmful to the children.

The new language anticipated by the court is no less problematic and we believe it to be unconstitutional under right to privacy cases, parental right cases, and the United States Supreme Court's ruling in Lawrence v. Texas. We believe a sweeping permanent injunction like the one entered here cannot be justified in light of today's law. We believe that a so-called "morality" clause, like the one the court intends to enter, is a burden on parents, regardless of their sexual orientation, that takes away and unreasonably limits their ability to make parental decisions of whom their children may be around and unreasonably limits what the United State Supreme Court has identified as the liberty of thought, belief, and expression.

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Eric Nicholson
Contact: Eric Nicholson