Monday, the United States Supreme Court reversed an Alabama Supreme Court decision refusing to recognize a lesbian mother’s prior adoption of her three children in Georgia. Monday’s summary reversal restores V.L. full rights as an adoptive parent.
“I am overjoyed that the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the Alabama court decision,” said the adoptive mother, V.L. “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.”
“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,” said National Center for Lesbian Rights Family Law Director Cathy Sakimura, who is representing V.L. “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.”
V.L and E.L. were in a long-term same-sex relationship in which they planned for and raised three children together, using donor insemination. To ensure that both had secure parental rights, V.L., the non-biological mother, adopted the couples’ three children in Georgia in 2007, with E.L.’s support and written consent. When the two later broke up, E.L. kept V.L. from seeing the children, fighting her request for visitation, and arguing that the Georgia adoption was invalid in Alabama, where they live.
In September 2015, the Alabama Supreme Court issued an order refusing to recognize V.L.’s Georgia adoption and declaring that it is “void.” Even though V.L. raised the children from birth and both women participated in the adoption hearing and consented to the adoption, the Court broke with more than a century of precedent requiring states to honor court judgments from other states. Disregarding this clear precedent, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that Alabama can treat the adoption as void based on the Alabama Supreme Court’s view that the Georgia court should not have granted the adoption in 2007.
In November 2015, V.L. asked the U.S. Supreme Court to Review her case, noting that the Alabama Supreme Court’s decision is unprecedented. Before this ruling, no state supreme court had refused to recognize a same-sex parent’s adoption from another state—or any out-of-state adoption—based on a disagreement with how the court issuing the adoption interpreted its own adoption laws. Under the United States Constitution’s Full Faith and Credit Clause, states are required to respect court judgments, including adoption orders, issued by courts in other states. V.L.’s request said “this Court’s review of the Alabama Supreme Court’s decision is urgently needed” because “the Alabama Supreme Court’s decision flouts a century of precedent on the Full Faith and Credit Clause and will have a devastating impact on Alabama adoptive families.”
In December 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court stayed the Alabama court’s decision, allowing V.L. to have visitation with her children while the Court considered her case.
In addition to the National Center for Lesbian Rights, V.L is represented by Adam Unikowsky and Paul Smith of Jenner & Block, and Alabama attorneys Heather Fann of Boyd, Fernambucq, Dunn & Fann, P.C., and Traci Vella of Vella & King, Attorneys at Law.
The children’s Guardian Ad Litem is Tobie J. Smith of the Legal Aid Society of Birmingham, who is represented by Marc Hearron of Morrison & Foerster LLP.