Supreme Court overturns Alabama ruling against lesbian mother’s adoption

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Supporters of gay marriage wave the rainbow flag outside the Supreme Court in July 2015. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

Supporters of gay marriage wave the rainbow flag outside the Supreme Court in July 2015. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court ruled Monday that Alabama’s top court went too far when it tried to upend a lesbian mother’s adoption of her partner’s children.

The justices threw out a ruling by the Alabama Supreme Court in a dispute between two women whose long-term relationship ended bitterly.

“I have been my children’s mother in every way for their whole lives. I thought that adopting them meant that we would be able to be together always,” the noncustodial parent known in court documents by the initials V.L. said in a statement issued by her attorney. “When the Alabama court said my adoption was invalid and I wasn’t their mother, I didn’t think I could go on. The Supreme Court has done what’s right for my family.”

Before their breakup, one partner bore three children; the other formally adopted them in Georgia. The Alabama residents went to Georgia because they had been told Atlanta-area courts would be more receptive than judges in Alabama. The Georgia court granted the adoption in 2007.

Alabama courts got involved when the birth mother tried to prevent her former partner from regular visits with the children. The two women had been together for about 16 years.

The Alabama Supreme Court sided with the birth mother in refusing to recognize the other woman as a parent and declaring the adoption invalid under Georgia law. Alabama justices ruled that the Georgia adoption law didn’t allow a “non-spouse to adopt a child without first terminating the parental rights of the current parents.” The case illustrated legal challenges facing gay and lesbian parents even after the Supreme Court issued a ruling last June that effectively legalized same-sex marriages nationwide. In December, the U.S. Supreme Court temporarily set aside the Alabama decision as the justices decided whether to hear the woman’s appeal. The issue was whether the actions of one state’s courts must be respected by another’s.

On Monday, the justices said in an unsigned opinion that “the Alabama Supreme Court erred in refusing to grant that judgment full faith and credit.”

National Center for Lesbian Rights Family Law Director Cathy Sakimura, one of several attorneys who represented V.L., called the court’s decision a victory for thousands of families.

“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,” she said.

Judith Schaeffer, vice president of the Constitutional Accountability Center, said the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling reaffirms family’s rights and the Alabama court ignored the Constitution in the case.

“In fact, the Alabama court’s ruling was so contrary to the Constitution that the Supreme Court did not even need briefing and oral argument to reverse it,” Schaeffer said in a statement.

The case illustrated legal challenges facing gay and lesbian parents even after the Supreme Court issued a ruling last June that effectively legalized same-sex marriages nationwide.

“Any attempt to deny legal rights to our families is reprehensible, and this ruling establishes that bias and discrimination cannot be allowed to undermine the bond between LGBT parents and their children,” Human Rights Campaign Legal Director Sarah Warbelow said in a statement, adding that the ruling sets a firm precedent for other courts.

“These children have two parents, and should have the security that comes with legal recognition,” Warbelow said.

Lucas reported from Birmingham, Alabama.

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