Family Law/Mar 9, 2016

Same-Sex Adoption Upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court

On March 7, 2016, the United States Supreme Court unanimously reversed an Alabama Supreme Court ruling that refused to recognize a Georgia adoption and denied parental rights to a same-sex parent. VL v EL, 577 US ____ (2016).

Previous to the Alabama Supreme Court ruling, a Georgia court entered an adoption order making V.L. the legal parent of three children that V.L. and V.L.’s same-sex companion, E.L., had raised from birth. When V.L. and E.L. later separated, V.L. petitioned for custody and parenting time in Alabama, where the couple had lived together. Although the lower court granted V.L. parenting time, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled against V.L., holding that the United States Constitution does not require Alabama courts to uphold a Georgia adoption order.

The U.S. Supreme Court, however, disagreed with the Alabama Supreme Court decision, citing the United States Constitution: “Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State.” US Const, Art IV § 1. This clause, commonly referred to as the “Full Faith and Credit Clause,” requires each state to recognize and give effect to valid judgments rendered by the courts of other states. As long as the court issuing the judgment had the proper authority to do so, a court in another state may not disregard the judgment issued, even if that state’s law conflicts with the order or if the court does not agree with the reasoning or believes the judgment was decided incorrectly.

Under Georgia law, the Georgia Superior Court had subject matter jurisdiction (i.e., proper authority) to hear and decide the adoption petition at issue in this case. The Georgia Superior Court issued a final order granting V.L.’s petition and making her a legal adoptive parent of the children. Because the Georgia judgment appears on its face to have been issued by a court with jurisdiction, the Alabama Supreme Court erred in refusing to enforce that judgment in accordance with the Full Faith and Credit Clause.

You can read the full (albeit short) opinion here:
http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/15pdf/15-648_d18e.pdf