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The Virginia Supreme Court Friday denied a lesbian custody of her son, saying the mother's live-in relationship could cause the child "social condemnation."

Sharon Bottoms first lost custody of 3-year-old Tyler Doustou two years ago when a judge said Bottoms was an unfit mother because she and her lover engaged in oral sex, a felony in Virginia.He gave custody to Bottoms' mother.

The Virginia Court of Appeals reversed the ruling last June, saying a parent's private sexual conduct - even if illegal - is not grounds for losing custody. Under the state's appellate rules, however, the child remained with his grandmother while the case was appealed.

In a 4-3 ruling of a case closely watched by gay rights groups, the state Supreme Court reversed the appellate court's decision.

"The evidence is plainly sufficient . . . that the mother is an unfit custodian at this time, and that the child's best interests would be promoted by awarding custody to the grandmother," Justice A. Christian Compton wrote.

The court said Bottoms' relationship with her lover, April Wade, created an environment that could cause the child "social condemnation."

But Bottoms' sexual orientation was not the only factor in its decision, the court said.

Evidence showed Bottoms had a history of moving from place to place, relying on others for support and "difficulty controlling her temper," the justices said.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Barbara M. Keenan wrote that the intermediate appeals court properly ruled that "adverse effects of a parent's homosexuality on a child cannot be assumed without specific proof."

Keenan wrote that "there is no evidence in this record showing that the mother's homosexual conduct is harmful to the child."