The US Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to take up a case examining whether an official in Louisiana violated the Constitution when she refused to issue a corrected birth certificate for a child adopted by an unmarried gay couple in New York.
The case was being closely followed because it raised legal issues that could be important in the escalating battle over state and federal government recognition of same-sex marriage.
The justices did not explain why they would not hear the case. The action leaves undisturbed a Fifth US Circuit Court of Appeals decision upholding the Louisiana official’s refusal to issue a new birth certificate.
The state official cited a Louisiana policy that permits only married couples to adopt. The policy applies to all unmarried couples, regardless of a couple’s sexual orientation.
The New York couple, Oren Adar and Mickey Ray Smith, adopted the boy under New York law.
The issue arose when they sought to amend their son’s Louisiana birth certificate to record their names as the boy’s parents. Louisiana refused.
The issue in the case was whether the constitutional requirement that each state afford “full faith and credit” to judicial decisions in other states requires Louisiana officials to issue a corrected birth certificate despite the state’s policy prohibiting adoptions by couples who aren’t married.
Lawyers for the couple had asked the high court to embrace a broad reading of the Constitution’s full faith and credit clause that would have required Louisiana to jettison its policy in light of New York’s adoption decree. In addition, they argued that the clause empowered individuals to sue a state that fails to accommodate a sister-state’s decree.
Louisiana embraced a much narrower reading of the full faith and credit clause.
Article IV, Section 1 of the Constitution says in part: “Full faith and credit shall be given in each state to the public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other state.”
A gay rights group, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, filed suit on the parents’ behalf, arguing that Louisiana had a constitutional duty to fully recognize the legality of the New York adoption. They said there is no exception allowing states to discriminate against certain adoptions that don’t comply with home-state policies.
A federal judge and a three-judge appeals court panel agreed. The Louisiana official was ordered to issue the amended birth certificate.
Louisiana appealed, seeking review by the entire Fifth Circuit. In a sharply split decision, the Fifth Circuit reversed the earlier judgments, ruling that the full faith and credit clause applied only to state courts, not to state officials acting pursuant to state law.
Writing for the majority, Chief Judge Edith Jones said the Louisiana registrar had neither refused nor denied recognition of New York’s adoption decree. Rather, the issue faced by the registrar was whether to issue a corrected birth certificate to adoptive parents who were unmarried.
Chief Judge Jones wrote: “The full faith and credit clause does not oblige Louisiana to confer particular benefits on unmarried adoptive parents contrary to its law.”
She added: “Louisiana has a right to issue birth certificates in the manner it deems fit.”
Urging the Supreme Court to take up the dispute, Washington lawyer Paul Smith said the Fifth Circuit’s decision insulates certain state officials from scrutiny under the full faith and credit clause.
“Heretofore, it has been understood that such discrimination by states among out-of-state judgments is at the core of what the full faith and credit clause prohibits,” Mr. Smith wrote in his brief to the court. “The question whether the Fifth Circuit was correct to depart from that consensus clearly raises questions that urgently need to be addressed by this court.”
In addition to Louisiana, 12 states bar unmarried couples from adopting, according to a friend of the court brief filed by the Williams Institute of the UCLA School of Law. Those states include Alaska, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Utah. In addition, Mississippi bans adoptions by same-sex couples, regardless of whether they are married or not.
The case was Adar v. Smith (11-46).