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Taking Stand for Families, Supreme Court Upholds LGBT Adoption Rights

Alabama Supreme Court previously refused to recognize woman's adoption of partner's children in Georgia, which justices said "comports neither with Georgia law nor common sense."

"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." (Photo: Prachatai/flickr/cc)

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday unanimously sided with a woman seeking to regain parental rights of her adopted children after splitting with her same-sex partner, in a ruling that advocates hailed as a victory for LGBTQI rights and adoptive families alike.

The decision (pdf) overturns a previous ruling by the Alabama Supreme Court, which refused to recognize the woman's adoption of the children in Georgia in 2007—a decision the justices on Monday said "comports neither with Georgia law nor common sense."

"The Georgia judgment appears on its face to have been issued by a court with jurisdiction, and there is no established Georgia law to the contrary," the court wrote in its opinion. "The Alabama Supreme Court erred in refusing to grant that judgment full faith and credit."

The women in the case, identified as V.L. and E.L., were in a relationship from 1995 to 2011. During that time, E.L. gave birth to three children through artificial insemination, and V.L. became their adoptive mother. The women raised the children together in Georgia until separating in 2011, at which point E.L. moved the family to Alabama, where a dispute over visitation arose.

V.L.'s petition to regain parental rights was approved by several lower courts in the state, but ultimately denied by the Alabama Supreme Court in 2015, which declared her adoption void, stating that the Georgia courts did not have jurisdiction to formalize adoptions for gay parents.

"I am overjoyed that the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the Alabama court decision," V.L. said on Monday. "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. The Supreme Court has done what’s right for my family."

Cathy Sakimura, V.L.'s attorney and director of family law at the National Center for Lesbian Rights, added, "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."

In declaring her adoption void, the Alabama court broke with more than 100 years of precedent that requires states to honor judgments from other states, the center said.

"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," Sakimura said.

Sarah Warbelow, legal director of the Human Rights Campaign, added, "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."

"The nation’s highest court today ruled in the best interests of these children, setting a firm precedent for others across our nation. These children have two parents, and should have the security that comes with legal recognition," Warbelow said. "We applaud the courageous plaintiff and her legal team, including the National Center for Lesbian Rights, for their victory."

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