Unanimous SCOTUS Decision On Unmarried Lesbian’s Parental Rights

Imagine adopting children and raising them from birth only to be later told that, because the state that allowed the adoption was wrong to do so, you have no parental rights over them.

That is exactly what happened last September to a lesbian mother who was told by the Alabama Supreme Court that because Georgia’s law “doesn’t allow…second parent adoptions,” she has no parental rights over her three adopted children.

On Monday morning, the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) unanimously reversed this decision.

The Story Behind the Case

The Alabama couple, only known as V.L. (the adoptive mother) and E.L. (the birth mother), began dating in 1995. They never married, but E.L. gave birth to three children during their relationship — one born in 2002, and twins born in 2004.

In 2007, after friends told the couple that Atlanta courts were friendly when it came to same-sex couples adopting, the couple temporarily moved to Georgia and rented a house in an effort to certify the adoptions.

E.L. did not give up her own parental rights, but did give the approval for V.L. to adopt them. The Atlanta courts allowed the adoption and issued the children new birth certificates that listed both women as the children’s parents.

In 2011, after a 16 year relationship, the couple called it quits. When E.L. refused V.L. any visitation or “access” to the children, V.L. sought court intervention.

The Alabama Courts’ Decisions

V.L. first went to an Alabama family court to seek both Alabama’s recognition of the Georgia judgment on the adoptions and for the right to see her three children. The family court ruled in V.L.’s favor.

Upset with the family court’s decision, the birth mother immediately appealed, alleging that the Georgia adoption was invalid. E.L. argued that because the couple only stayed in Georgia for two nights, Georgia had no authority or jurisdiction over the adoption. Her appeal went all the way to the state’s Supreme Court.

The Alabama Supreme Court overturned the family court’s ruling, agreeing with the birth mother that Georgia has no jurisdiction on this issue. The court stated:

Georgia law makes no provision for a non-spouse to adopt a child without first terminating the parental rights of the current parents.”

They reasoned that because the birth mother did not abandon her parental rights, the adoption was not legitimate.

Only one dissenter, Justice Greg Shaw, argued that this was “dangerous precedent” because it may call into question many Alabama adoptions, not only those of same-sex couples.

Regardless, this ruling “effectively stripped V.L.” of her parental rights. V.L. appealed her case to the nation’s highest court.

SCOTUS’ Unanimous Reversal

Though SCOTUS is usually very divided on LGBT rights issues, they unanimously reversed the Alabama Supreme Court’s decision without even hearing oral arguments.

The case did not turn on the individual rights of LGBT parents, rather it turned on whether Alabama could “second-guess” the Georgia court’s orders validating the children’s adoptions.

The Court found that Alabama must respect the laws and judgments of “courts of every other state.”  Alabama not only disrespected Georgia law, but was wrong in their judgment “of what Georgia law would allow.

According to the six page decision, the only time that a state court can disrespect the laws and judgments of their sister states is when that sister state does not have jurisdiction to make such a decision. SCOTUS opined that Georgia did in fact have jurisdiction over the adoptions of V.L.’s children.

The Court further agreed that the Alabama family court was correct in recognizing the Georgia adoptions.

V.L.’s Response to Her Victory

In response to the unanimous decision, V.L. issued the following statement:

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.

SCOTUS did not only do right by V.L.’s family, but for all adoptive families that may face similar circumstances.

Featured image is a screenshot from Youtube.