RANCHO MIRAGE — Frank Batey, the homosexual father whose custody fight with his fundamentalist ex-wife became a highly publicized ethical and religious square-off, died Friday at a hospital here at the age of 42.
The cause of Batey's death had not been determined late Friday, according to a spokeswoman for the Riverside County coroner. However, she said the coroner's investigation noted that Batey, who was 42, had a history of AIDS.
Batey, a former San Diegan who lived in Palm Springs, had won custody of the boy. The decision prompted his ex-wife, Betty Lou, to disappear with the child for 19 months.
"I loved my father and will miss him terribly," Batey's son, Brian, 16, told United Press International. "At least I have some good memories. This has been my home with my father and Craig. He gave a hell of a fight."
Craig Corbett was Frank Batey's partner. Brian Batey told UPI that he hoped to remain in Palm Springs with Corbett.
Batey died at 1:21 a.m. at the Eisenhower Medical Center here. The exact cause of death will be entered on a death certificate by Batey's physician, said the coroner's spokeswoman, who declined to be identified.
The highly publicized custody case commenced after the 1975 divorce of Frank and Betty Lou Batey, members of the United Pentecostal Church in San Diego. Mrs. Batey initially won custody of Brian, but a judge transferred custody after she refused to allow the boy to visit his father.
Mrs. Batey then stole away with Brian in August, 1982. After a nationwide FBI search, she surfaced with the boy in April, 1984, and spent two weeks in jail on civil contempt charges for defying the custody order.
Later, another judge dismissed the criminal charges against her, holding that criminal proceedings would place her in double jeopardy. But the San Diego County district attorney's office fought successfully in the appellate courts to have the charges reinstated, contending that child-stealing merits criminal penalties.
After a weeklong trial, San Diego Superior Court Judge Douglas Woodworth last month threw out the charges against Mrs. Batey before they could be considered by a jury. He ruled that she had her son's safety at heart when she took him underground.
Much of the proceedings had centered on Frank Batey, the homosexual life style he had adopted after abandoning fundamentalism, and his ex-wife's beliefs about the dangers to Brian in his father's household.
Mrs. Batey claimed that Brian had told her he had been exposed to alcohol, drugs and homosexual activities at his father's Palm Springs home--allegations that Frank Batey denied.
Frank Batey retained custody of the boy, who continued to visit his mother regularly.
The case attracted the attention of groups nationwide. Mrs. Batey's legal defense was supplied by Concerned Women for America, a right-wing lobbying group headed by fundamentalist activist Beverly LaHaye.
Mrs. Batey's attorneys argued that her concerns for Brian's welfare justified her violation of the law.
Mrs. Batey could not be reached late Friday. A woman who answered the telephone at her home, identifying herself as "a dear friend," said Mrs. Batey would have no comment on her ex-husband's death.
Corbett told UPI that the Desert Business Assn. will dedicate its "Gay Pride Day" Sunday to the memory of Batey. Corbett and Batey were honored last year by the association for their "years of personal hardships and sacrifices and for having paved the way for thousands of gay parents," Corbett said.
Corbett said memorial services were pending and that he hoped his and Brian's privacy would be respected.