Interstate Recognition of Adoptions by Single-Sex Couples

With the recognition of single-sex marriage nationwide, it should become easier for single-sex couples to adopt children in states that were previously hostile. The Supreme Court recently issued a ruling indicating that it will not allow states to disregard other states’ allowance of single-sex adoptions.

The case involved a couple from Georgia. One of them had children through assisted reproductive technology. They agreed to have the other woman adopt the children as a second parent. They specifically indicated in their petition to the Georgia court that the birth mother did not surrender her parental rights, and the court approved the adoption. Later, they moved to Alabama, and eventually broke up. The non-birth mother then petitioned to have the adoption recognized in Alabama and for parenting time. The Alabama Supreme Court (which is openly resisting single-sex marriage) ruled that the Georgia court did not have jurisdiction because the Georgia adoption statute required all living parents to surrender their parental rights or have them judicially terminated.

The Supreme Court reversed. The legal reasoning was based on application of the constitutional requirement that states recognize each others’ judgments. Disputes over jurisdiction can be considered in deciding whether the first ruling is valid, but the second court is allowed only to determine the basic jurisdiction of the court unless clearly disproved. Because Georgia courts have general jurisdiction over all adoptions, whether the couple should have obtained a waiver of the birth mother’s parental rights was a question for the Georgia court that the Alabama court could not second-guess.

As a practical matter, this case is not likely to be of significant impact in Oregon and Washington. Both states allow single-sex couples to adopt and have long considered such adoptions routine. They would probably recognize an adoption from another state without seriously going behind the face of the judgment. Still, this ruling should give couples reassurance that their adoptions in Oregon or Washington are likely to be recognized in more hostile states.

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