On Wednesday, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, one of the most important legal bodies concerned with human rights in the Americas, heard the case of Karen Atala, a lesbian mother from Chile who lost the custody of her three children in 2003. The Chilean Supreme Court ruled in 2003 that Atala was unfit to maintain any custody of her children because of her sexual orientation. The fact that the Inter-American Court of Human Rights heard Atala's case this week is significant because it is the first time the court has ever heard a case dealing specifically with sexual orientation.
In 2001, Atala, a criminal court judge, separated from her husband and soon after, moved in with a woman, Emma de Ramón. Atala's former husband sued for full custody of their three daughters, saying that Atala's lesbian relationship would damage the girls.
Although Atala won the case in some of the lower courts, in 2003 the Supreme Court of Chile overruled those decisions, asserting that the lesbian relationship put the daughters in a "position of risk."