U.S. Supreme Court stays Alabama order denying adoption recognition

Posted on 14 Dec 2015 at 11:37am
Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore

Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore

Justice Clarence Thomas granted an Alabama lesbian mother’s request for an emergency stay of an Alabama Supreme Court order refusing to recognize her adoption of her three children, according to the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

Thomas referred the application for a stay to the full court. The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling today suspends the Alabama Supreme Court decision so that the adoptive mother will be able to have visitation pending the Court’s consideration of her case.

Roy Moore is chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. In July, he ordered probate judges to stop issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in defiance of the Supreme court’s Obergefell decision.

On Nov. 16, “V.L.” (one of the adoptive parents) asked the U.S. Supreme Court for an emergency order permitting her to visit her children — ages 13, 11 and 11 — whom she hasn’t had visitation with since April, even though she has raised them from their birth. A separate request for the U.S. Supreme Court to review the Alabama Supreme Court decision refusing to recognize her as an adoptive parent and holding that Alabama does not have to recognize second-parent adoptions granted by Georgia courts is pending.

In her request to the U.S. Supreme Court, V.L. noted that the Alabama Supreme Court’s decision is unprecedented. Before this ruling, no state supreme court has refused to recognize a same-sex parent’s adoption from another state — or any out-of-state adoption — based on a disagreement with how the court issuing the adoption interpreted its own adoption laws. Under the United States Constitution’s Full Faith and Credit Clause, states are required to respect court judgments, including adoption orders, issued by courts in other states.

V.L was in a long-term same-sex relationship with E.L. during which they planned and raised three children together, using donor insemination. To ensure that both had secure parental rights, V.L., the non-biological mother, adopted the couples’ three children in Georgia in 2007, with E.L.’s support and written consent. When the two later broke up, E.L. kept V.L. from seeing the children, fighting her request for visitation, and arguing that the Georgia adoption was invalid in Alabama, where they live.

On Sept. 18, the Alabama Supreme Court issued an order refusing to recognize V.L.’s Georgia adoption and declaring that it is “void.” Even though both women participated in the adoption hearing and consented to the adoption, the Court broke with more than a century of precedent requiring states to honor court judgments from other states. Disregarding this clear precedent, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that Alabama can treat the adoption as void based on the Alabama Supreme Court’s view that the Georgia court should not have granted the adoption in 2007.

V.L is represented by NCLR, Adam Unikowsky and Paul Smith of Jenner & Block, and Alabama attorneys Heather Fann of Boyd, Fernambucq, Dunn & Fann, P.C., and Traci Vella of Vella & King, Attorneys at Law.

“I am relieved for V.L. and her children that they can be reunited. For any adoptive parent, it would be unthinkable that their adoption could be invalidated years later and that they could be separated from their children for months while they fought to be recognized. V.L. and her children have already endured what no parent or child should ever have to experience,” NCLR Family Law Director Cathy Sakimura said.

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