Supreme Court rejects appeal in gay couple’s adoption case

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).

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Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 10/12/2011 - 08:49 am.

    Those two New York trophy “Dads” are despicable.

    A birth certificate is a root source document which will follow that kid his entire life. It doesn’t need to drag the details of his unfortunate adoption circumstances with him.

  2. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 10/12/2011 - 10:02 am.

    Underlying the desire of Oren Adar and Mickey Ray Smith to BOTH be listed as parents on their son’s birth certificate is the desire that they both be fully recognized as their son’s adoptive parents and that they both bear FULL responsibility for the continuing care and support of their son if something unfortunate should happen to either of them.

    How this can be seen as despicable is beyond me.

    As is the case with most children, the son of this gay couple (no matter where they live) will grow up loving and/or finding himself in conflict with his parents for the same reasons that ALL children find themselves loving and/or conflicting with their parents.

    It’s highly unlikely that his birth certificate, however it is rendered, will have any impact on that reality as long as nothing happens to either of his parents.

    ALL children see their own families as natural and normal. Children being raised by single parents (of either gender) sometimes suffer from the stresses that inevitably result from the lack of a second set of eyes and attitudes, not to mention a second income and a readily-available second person to provide an occasional break from parenting duties.

    But in all families, regardless of the genders or numbers of parents, children do better or worse largely based on the stability and economic security of the family unit, itself (which, in today’s world, may or may NOT include marriage between the primary parents).

    What strikes me more in this court case is that Louisiana continues to refuse to list both parents on a birth certificate if they are not married to each other, the primary result being that unwed fathers in that state are likely to have NO responsibility to provide resources to support the lives of the children they father…

    which, far too often, is the result of “conservative” people and the politicians they support NOT wanting themselves or their own sons named in the public record to be the fathers of children which result from those men’s embarrassingly irresponsible sexual behavior.

    That’s what’s despicable: the desire of some men to ensure that they are NOT named on their own children’s birth certificates in order that they NEVER be required to be responsible for the children they have fathered.

    Many other states, including Minnesota, have long since changed this practice in an effort to enable and, indeed, require men who father children to bear responsibility for the continuing support of those children whether they have a continuing relationship with the mothers of those children or not.

  3. Submitted by James Hamilton on 10/12/2011 - 10:52 am.

    Mr. Swift writes:

    “A birth certificate is a root source document which will follow that kid his entire life.”

    I trust, then, that you would disapprove of current practice in most states, in which an amended birth certificate is issued by the state in which a child is adopted, removing the names of the biological parents and substituting the namse of the adoptive parents. (Some states even permit the date and place of birth to be altered.) In all but a handful of states, the original birth certificate is sealed and put beyond the reach of all forever.

    As for this:

    “It doesn’t need to drag the details of his unfortunate adoption circumstances with him.”

    It seems that’s your real point, isn’t it? Don’t brand the kid with having parents of whom you disapprove.

  4. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 10/12/2011 - 12:18 pm.

    Yes James, I do disapprove of amended birth certificates.

    And yes, I disapprove of branding the kid with “parentage” which I, along with the majority of the world, finds disturbing.

    Next question.

    Greg, I’ll pass your condemnation on to John Edwards, Jesse Jackson and Ted Kennedy….who knew they were conservatives in leftist Armani’s?

  5. Submitted by Joe Musich on 10/12/2011 - 05:44 pm.

    Hateful language! I would say so. You conservatives wish for federal laws only when they are convent to enforce your ideology. But hate always has a counterpoint.

  6. Submitted by Jordan Palmer on 10/16/2011 - 12:51 pm.

    This is not true about the Commonwealth of Kentucky. The Kentucky Supreme Court upheld second-parent same-sex adoption. In addition, Kentucky has over 200 gay couples who have adopted children.

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