Happiness is a 'real' family

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The Independent Online
WASHINGTON - Gregory Kingsley's legal victory over his mother - placing a child's constitutional right to happiness over the 'natural' rights of parents - has sparked a legal debate about family values in the United States, writes John Lichfield .

Some lawyers suggested that the 12-year-old boy had struck a blow for families by establishing his right to live in a real family, instead of with a woman who happened to be his mother. Others said the case might open the door to frivolous efforts by children to defy their parents' wishes.

In the first case of its kind in the US, Judge Thomas Kirk ruled in Orlando, Florida, on Friday that Gregory had a right to decide his own destiny after years of abandonment and neglect. He also accepted an adoption request from the boy's foster parents, George and Lizabeth Russ. As the case goes to appeal - conceivably all the way to the US Supreme Court - it may become an important test of the rights of individual Americans, even children, to 'pursue' personal happiness, as formally laid down in the US constitution.

Efforts to make the case part of the family-values battleground in the presidential campaign seemed to have fallen flat on their face. Before the hearing last week, Republicans pointed to the case as an example of the anti-family social engineering favoured by the Democratic candidate, Bill Clinton, and his wife Hillary. After hearing evidence that Gregory's mother, Rachel, drank excessively, took drugs and neglected her children, Republicans appear to have decided that she may not be an appropriate symbol of family values.

Whatever the outcome of the case in higher courts, the last word on Gregory's story has not been spoken. Gregory, who now says he wants to be called Sean, has hired a lawyer to negotiate with television and film producers who wish to tell his story.

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