Federal judge strikes down last state law barring gay couples from adopting

Same-sex couples in Mississippi who are seeking to adopt will now finally be able to do so, thanks to a federal judge.

Justin Sellers/The Clarion-Ledger/AP
Meridian resident Nykolas Alford waves a rainbow-colored flag designed with the US flag during a Human Rights Campaign protest at the Mississippi State Capitol steps in Jackson, Miss., Tuesday.

Same-sex couples in Mississippi who are seeking to adopt will now finally be able to do so, thanks to a federal judge.

Mississippi was the only state in America with a law that banned married same-sex couples from adopting, even after gay marriage was legalized in the state in 2014. On Thursday, US District Judge Daniel Jordan ruled that Mississippi’s ban violated the Constitution’s equal protection clause.

The ban's overturn occurs as the national conversation on what constitutes a family is both shifting and expanding, particularly when it comes to LGBT rights. Judge Jordan built upon that framework in his decision, saying that just as same-sex couples should be granted the right to marry, they should also be given the freedom to adopt.

It seems "highly unlikely that the same court that held a state cannot ban gay marriage because it would deny benefits – expressly including the right to adopt – would then conclude that married gay couples can be denied that very same benefit," Jordan wrote.

The decision originated in response to an August 2015 lawsuit, which was filed on behalf of four same-sex couples who were legally married. Two of those couples were already raising children, including a nine-year-old and a teenager. The plaintiffs argued that the ban discriminated against couples who are legally married and seeking to adopt.

According to the lawsuit, 2010 census data indicates that one-third of the 3,484 gay and lesbian couples in Mississippi were raising children. The lawsuit also added that about 100 children in Mississippi are in foster care and legally available for adoption.

For two of the plaintiffs who already have a child together, the freedom that the decision gives them to be legally recognized as a family "means everything," Susan Hrostowski said in a statement. Ms. Hrostowski is married to Kathryn Garner, and the two have a 16-year-old son. 

"There is no greater joy on this planet than to have him as my son and for the world to understand, appreciate and affirm that he is my son," Hrostowski said. 

Mississippi’s ban was enacted in 2000. Then-governor Ronnie Musgrove, who signed the law, has since said that he regretted that decision, a sign of just how sharp the shift in perceptions of same-sex couples as parents has been.

As the Monitor's Patrik Jonsson reported last August:

Just as gay marriage bans have been challenged, and finally defeated, in the courts, opinions around same-sex couples adopting children have shifted dramatically, too. Just two years ago, several states had bans on joint adoption by gay couples. Florida, for one, had for four decades explicitly banned homosexuals from adopting or fostering a child. But in July, Gov. Rick Scott signed a law allowing homosexual couples to adopt in the conservative Southern state....

The push to remove all obstacles for gay couples who want to adopt or raise foster kids, for many Americans, has now gone beyond debates about science and sociology and focuses more on the imperatives of wanting to find capable and loving adults for children in need of parents.

“We’re starting to see the cultural change and recognition that LGBT folks exist in every part of the country, in every county, even in Mississippi,” says Aaron Sarver, a spokesman with the Campaign For Southern Equality, in Asheville, N.C. “The South is not just Atlanta, not just Charlotte. There’s a huge LGBT community in Hattiesburg, Miss. – who knew, right?"

This report contains material from the Associated Press and Reuters.

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