Adoption of same-sex partner’s children allowed in Idaho

So the Idaho Supreme Court concludes in In the Matter of the Adoption of John Doe & John Doe I (Idaho Feb. 10, 2014). More broadly, the court concludes that such a second-parent adoption doesn’t require that the parties be married to each other, so that adoption of an opposite-sex partner’s (or even friend’s) children would be allowed as well, so long as the other requirements for adoption are met.

A magistrate court hearing the adoption petition had refused to let a woman adopt her lesbian partner’s children, “on the grounds that ‘the petitioner must be in a lawfully recognized union, i.e. married to the prospective adoptee’s parent, to have legal standing to file a petition to adopt that person’s biological or adopted child.’” But, the Idaho Supreme Court held, “Idaho’s adoption statutes unambiguously allow a second, prospective parent to adopt, regardless of marital status”:

Idaho Code § 16-1501 provides that “[a]ny minor child may be adopted by any adult person residing in and having residence in Idaho, in the cases and subject to the rules prescribed in this chapter.” I.C. § 16-1501. “Any adult person” is not defined in title 16, nor should it be — it is difficult to imagine reasonable minds differing as to its meaning…

“[A]ny adult person” cannot possibly be construed to mean “any married adult person” as the magistrate ultimately determined. While it is true that I.C. § 16-1501 is “subject to the rules prescribed in this chapter[,]” nothing in chapter 15 comes close to requiring that “a petitioner must be in a lawfully recognized union, i.e. married to the prospective adoptee’s parent, to have legal standing to file a petition to adopt that person’s biological or adopted child[,]” as was held by the magistrate in this case….

It bears mentioning that this is not a case dealing with same-sex marriage. Rather, it is strictly a case dealing with Idaho’s adoption laws. Those laws, including the issue of who may adopt, are set by the Idaho Legislature. The Legislature has imposed no restrictions that would disqualify Jane Doe from seeking to adopt Jane Doe I’s children, and the Court will not imply any such restrictions based upon Idaho’s marital statutes. We emphasize that Jane Doe’s sexual orientation was wholly irrelevant to our analysis. [Some paragraph breaks rearranged. -EV]

Thanks to How Appealing for the pointer.

Eugene Volokh teaches free speech law, religious freedom law, church-state relations law, a First Amendment Amicus Brief Clinic, and tort law, at UCLA School of Law, where he has also often taught copyright law, criminal law, and a seminar on firearms regulation policy.
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Eugene Volokh · February 10