Supreme Court: Alabama can't negate lesbian mother's adoptive rights

The high court's decision Monday to overturn the Alabama Supreme Court's ruling could have broad implications for adoption rights for same-sex couples, advocates say. 

Albert Cesare/The Montgomery Advertiser via AP/File
Minoo Vafai (r.) and Harvey McDaniel hold rainbow flags during a rally against Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore on Jan. 12, outside the Alabama Supreme Court building in Montgomery, Ala. The US Supreme Court on Monday ruled that Alabama’s top court went too far when it refused to recognize a gay woman’s parental rights over her adoption of her partner’s children.

In another sign of the cultural shift in gender rights that continues to sweep the nation, the US Supreme Court on Monday ruled that Alabama’s top court went too far when it refused to recognize a gay woman’s parental rights over her adoption of her partner’s children.

The case required the Supreme Court to interpret the Constitution’s decree that states must give “full faith and credit” to legal decisions made in other states. The high court ruled to reverse the Alabama court’s decision without hearing oral argument – a relatively unusual step taken when a ruling is considered to be especially counter to Supreme Court precedents.

Supporters of the adoptive mother, identified in court documents only as V.L. , praised the decision – and its implications for adoption rights for same-sex couples.

“If the full faith and credit clause can be as easily circumvented as it was by the Alabama Supreme Court, the parent-child relationship will be only as strong as the credit it will be given in the most restrictive states,” wrote several gay rights groups in a friend-of-court brief filed on behalf of V.L., as reported by NBC News.

“This case is a part of our continuing national conversation about legal respect for the relations formed by and between same-sex couples, including those who raise children,” the brief continued.

In 2007, a court in Georgia granted V.L.'s petition to adopt the children in a move that her partner and the three children’s birth mother, named in the documents as E.L., accepted at the time. After the couple – who never married – split in 2011, the pair disputed custody arrangements. V.L. then filed for joint custody in Alabama.

E.L.’s lawyers argued that parental rights granted to one person in an unmarried couple that also preserves the rights of the biological parent are banned under Georgia law – which means that the full faith and credit requirement does not apply.

The fact that the ruling overturned originated in Alabama – a deeply conservative state whose Supreme Court Justice, Roy Moore, has been among the most active opponents of same-sex marriage – could have broad ramifications nationwide, gay rights advocates say.

“The Supreme Court’s reversal of Alabama’s unprecedented decision to void an adoption from another state is a victory not only for our client but for thousands of adopted families,” Cathy Sakimura, director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, told USA Today. “No adoptive parent or child should have to face the uncertainty and loss of being separated years after their adoption just because another state’s court disagrees with the law that was applied in their adoption.”

“People have begun to realize that this is not a theoretical question about creating something new,” said Gabriel Blau, the executive director of the Family Equality Council, to the Monitor in August. “This is a real concrete question of whether we’re going to be a country that protects children and puts them first or a country that denies children the best opportunities in life, simply because we don’t think their parents’ sexuality is OK.”

This report contains material from Reuters and the Associated Press.

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