Supreme Court Upholds Adoption Rights for Gay Parents Across State Lines

The court knocks down an Alabama decision to ignore an adoption established in Georgia.
(Photo: Astrid Riecken/‘The Washington Post’ via Getty Images)
Mar 7, 2016· 1 MIN READ
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

After more than four years of legal wrangling in a back-and-forth custody battle, an adoptive mom has had her rights to co-parent her three children affirmed by the nation’s top court.

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously agreed to reverse an Alabama court’s refusal to recognize a same-sex adoption.

In E.L. v. V.L., a woman, referred to as V.L., sought visitation of her three children after she and her longtime partner, identified as E.L., split in 2011. As the biological mother, E.L. was legally considered the only parent until 2007, when V.L—with E.L.’s written consent—adopted the three children in Georgia. Once the pair broke up, E.L. challenged her former partner’s parental rights. The Alabama Supreme Court sided with E.L. in September, finding that the Georgia adoption was void in Alabama.

The Supreme Court said otherwise, noting, “A state may not disregard the judgment of a sister state because it disagrees with the reasoning underlying the judgment or deems it to be wrong on the merits.” The ruling refers to the U.S. Constitution’s Full Faith and Credit Clause, which requires states to abide by rulings and regulations established in other states.

“I am overjoyed that the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the Alabama court decision,” V.L. said in a statement released by the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which took on her case. “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. When the Alabama court said my adoption was invalid and I wasn’t their mother, I didn’t think I could go on.”

Although married same-sex parents can petition for second-parent adoption nationwide, unmarried couples may face opposition. While some 30 states have granted second-parent adoptions to same-sex couples, many have done so on a case-by-case basis, according to the National Center for Lesbian Rights. Several states, including Alabama, Ohio, Nebraska, and Wisconsin, do not allow second-parent adoption for unmarried same-sex couples.

While the Supreme Court’s decision does not challenge the validity of state bans on second-parent adoptions, it ensures that an adoptive parent’s rights won’t be jeopardized simply for crossing state lines.

“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, V.L.’s lawyer and the family law director at the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said in a statement. “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.”