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US Supreme Court overturns Alabama court ruling against same-sex adoption

The US Supreme Court on Monday overturned, with no dissent, an Alabama Supreme Court ruling that denied a same-sex adoption.

Richard Wolf reported the background for USA Today:

The case was brought by "V.L.," as she is identified in court papers, against her former partner "E.L.," who gave birth to three children between 2002-04 while the couple was together. To win adoption rights for V.L., they established temporary residency in Georgia.

Now that they have split, E.L. agreed with the Alabama Supreme Court, which ruled in September that Georgia mistakenly granted V.L. joint custody. E.L.'s lawyers argued that "the Georgia court had no authority under Georgia law to award such an adoption, which is therefore void and not entitled to full faith and credit."

The Supreme Court last month blocked the Alabama court's action while considering the case, temporarily restoring V.L.'s visitation rights. And on Monday, the justices issued a six-page unsigned decision reversing the Alabama court.

Ultimately, the US Supreme Court argued that there was no reason for the Alabama court to refuse to acknowledge a Georgia court's ruling in favor of the adoption. "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 US Supreme Court ruled in an unsigned opinion. "It follows that the Alabama Supreme Court erred in refusing to grant that judgment full faith and credit."

Following the US Supreme Court's decision to legalize same-sex marriages nationwide in 2015, all states except Mississippi allow same-sex couples to jointly adopt children, and second-parent and stepparent laws in all states technically allow same-sex partners to adopt their partner's children, although sometimes only if the couple is married. (Mississippi's ban on same-sex joint adoption is currently under challenge.)

But there's a lack of clarity when it comes to second-parent laws in particular, which allow the adoption of a child by the second parent in a home when a couple is unmarried. So lawyers for V.L. said the case could provide some legal clarity not just for couples in Alabama and Georgia, but for couples in other states that deny or challenge unmarried couples' adoptions.

"While at least 30 states have permitted second-parent adoptions, almost all of them have done so under statutory frameworks that, like Georgia's, do not expressly embrace the concept," legal advocates for V.L. wrote in a brief. "As a result, the number of children who could be adversely affected by the Alabama Supreme Court's decision is large."

But the Supreme Court ultimately came out in V.L.'s — and possibly other unmarried adoptive parents' — favor.

"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," National Center for Lesbian Rights family law director Cathy Sakimura, who is representing V.L., 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."

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