Fathers Groups Say Case Spotlights Custody Bias

By David Weber, Boston Herald

April 24, 2000

Spokesmen for Massachusetts fathers' rights groups said the Elian Gonzalez saga has brought new and widespread attention to the plight of men who say courts treat them like second-class citizens when it comes to custody of their children.

``Here is a case where the mother isn't even alive, and it's still not automatic that the father should have custody,'' said Mark Charalambous, a founding member of the Fatherhood Coalition. ``There is the potential here for a big leap forward in the public consciousness.''

Ned Holstein of Fathers and Families said the Elian case - aside from the boy's dramatic rescue at sea - is in many ways like any number of custody battles played out in courts across the nation each day.

``In this case, the boy's father had a lawyer paid for by the National Council of Churches and had the full weight of the U.S. Justice Department behind him,'' Holstein said. ``The ordinary father whose wife or ex-wife kidnaps the kids to Arizona is often helpless and never able to re-establish a normal relationship with his children.''

Charalambous, Holstein and their supporters said they agreed with the decision to take Elian from his Miami relatives by force Saturday, despite the disturbing images of helmeted police officers armed with rifles whisking him away.

``It certainly looks ugly and it was ugly,'' Charalambous said. ``But I don't think they (U.S. government officials) had any choice. The Cubans in Miami were going to milk this thing for as much anti-Fidel (Castro) sentiment as they could get. I don't think they ever would have turned him over voluntarily.''

Charalambous acknowledged that fathers' rights groups, like other political and special interest groups, used the sad entanglement of the little boy in Miami to advance their own agendas. But he made no apologies.

``We believe fathers' rights is a huge issue that has been swept under the rug,'' he said. ``The situation here was that we recognized a potential for us to get our issue to the surface. I don't see any way we've harmed him (Elian). I don't think anything we're doing is hypocritical.''

At the same time, Charalambous was highly critical of Republicans who outspokenly opposed the reunion of the boy with his Cuban father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez.

He accused the Republicans of using Gonzalez as a political pawn in their fight to win vote-rich Florida in the November presidential election.

``The Republicans are the party that talks continually about family values. They should have seen that this case should be clear that the boy belongs with the father,'' he said.

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