The Supreme Court on Monday put on hold an Alabama Supreme Court ruling that said the state should not recognize a lesbian mother’s adoption of three children in neighboring Georgia.
Without noted dissent, the justices granted a stay request from the woman, identified in court papers as V.L. The Alabama high court said Georgia courts violated their own state laws in granting the adoptions of the children V.L. shared with her former partner, and thus she did not deserve custody or even visitation with the children.
V.L. adopted the children whom her longtime partner, identified in court papers as E.L., delivered after becoming pregnant from a donor. The couple later broke up in Alabama, where they lived.
Lawyers for V.L. say the decision violates the Constitution’s “full faith and credit” clause, which requires that states respect court judgments, including adoption orders, issued by courts in other states.
The U.S. Supreme Court said the stay will remain in effect while it decides whether to accept the case for full briefing and argument.
The case represents a new round of legal challenges in the wake of the court’s decision in June that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry.
Gay rights groups have said legal marriage will not solve myriad problems for gay parents, particularly those who were raising children together before the legalization of same-sex unions and then split up.
Advocates are now trying to make the case that these parents, who may have had no choice but to raise children outside the legal protections of marriage, should have some ability to maintain relationships with their non-biological children.
V.L., represented by the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said 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.”
Her lawyers said the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision means V.L. will be able to visit the children while the court considers accepting the case.
“I adopted my children more than eight years ago to be sure that I could always be there to protect them,” the woman said in a statement issued by her lawyers. “This terrible Alabama decision has hurt my family and will hurt so many other families if it is not corrected.”
V.L. and E.L. were in a long-term relationship that began in 1995. The two never married because the law did not allow it.
But they planned to have and raise three children together, using donor insemination. E.L. gave birth to one child in 2002 and twins in 2004. There is no dispute that the two women were co-parents and that they began to look for a way to ensure that V.L. had secure parental rights.
They moved briefly to Georgia, where they had been told courts were more hospitable to second-parent adoptions. The Georgia courts agreed in 2007, and V.L. and E.L. were recognized as the children’s parents.
The couple moved back to Alabama — court papers indicated that they never really left — and split up in 2011. The legal dispute began when V.L. sought joint custody. According to V.L.’s complaint, E.L. kept her from seeing the children, fighting her request for visitation and arguing that the Georgia adoption was invalid in Alabama.
Lower courts in Alabama disagreed. But the state Supreme Court in September ruled 6 to 1 that Georgia courts had made a mistake in interpreting their own state’s laws and that V.L.’s petition for adoption should not have been granted without E.L. giving up her parental rights.
V.L.’s petition said there was reason for concern about the Alabama Supreme Court’s motivations.
Earlier this year, it told state officials not to issue same-sex-marriage licenses, despite a federal court’s decision that the state’s prohibition was unconstitutional.
And one of the justices in the majority in the adoption case noted that Alabama “has a legitimate interest in encouraging that children be adopted into the optimal family structure, i.e., one with both a father and a mother.”