ATLANTA - Eric Mongerson's kids couldn't meet his partner of two years, much less join the couple for ice cream. His friends couldn't cheer on the children at concerts or Little League games.
The divorced dad spent thousands of dollars fighting an unusual ban imposed by a county judge in 2007 that kept the three minors from having any contact with his gay friends or partners.
He felt unfairly scrutinized every moment he spent with the kids, though he never was looking to make a statement. He just wanted to spend a day with his kids and his partner, Jose Sanchez - together.
This Father's Day, he finally will.
"It's a fairy tale ending," he told The Associated Press after the Georgia Supreme Court overturned the ban.
The ban stemmed from the bitter divorce between Mongerson and his ex-wife, Sandy, who were married for almost 20 years and had four children. Mongerson said the marriage ended when his wife discovered he was gay in November 2005, but he would not elaborate.
The dispute played out the next few years in court, as Sandy's attorney claimed he had several affairs with other men and subjected the kids to an array of "wholly inappropriate conduct" during a trip to Arkansas.
The arguments helped sway Fayette County Superior Court Judge Christopher Edwards to award Sandy Kay Ehlers Mongerson custody of the children. The judge also issued a blanket order banning Eric Mongerson from "exposing the children to his homosexual partners and friends." A fourth child is an adult over 18 and had no restrictions on contact with Mongerson or his gay friends.
Edwards said in his ruling that the decision was meant to reflect "the trauma inflicted upon the children" during the Arkansas trip.
Mongerson, though, said it only made him feel like he was being targeted for coming out of the closet. For almost two years, Mongerson said he feared losing more time with his kids and walked on egg shells during their weekly four-hour visits.
He didn't hide the fact he was gay from the kids, but they couldn't be around his partner, Sanchez. He was afraid to invite straight friends who might be accused of being gay. And he wouldn't dare bring his children to his place in downtown Atlanta, even though his wife once brought a boyfriend to his daughter's concert.
In court arguments in January, attorneys Hannibal Heredia and Kimberli Reagin contended the judge had no evidence that exposing the children to Mongerson's gay friends would damage them.
On Monday, the Georgia Supreme Court unanimously agreed. Justice Robert Benham wrote in the scathing 10-page ruling that the trial court abused its discretion without evidence of harm to the children. He concluded it "flies in the face of our public policy that encourages divorced parents to participate in the raising of their children."