Mother Also Asks Supreme Court to Stay Alabama Decision So She Can Have Visitation with Her Children for the First Time Since April
This week, a lesbian mother in Alabama asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review an Alabama Supreme Court decision refusing to recognize her as an adoptive parent of her three children and holding that Alabama does not have to recognize second-parent adoptions granted by Georgia courts. The mother also asked the Supreme Court for an emergency order permitting her to visit her children while her appeal is pending. As a result of an earlier Alabama order, she has not had visitation with her children – ages 12, 10, and 10 – for nearly seven months, even though she has raised them from birth.
In her request, V.L. the adoptive mother, notes that the Alabama Supreme Court’s decision is unprecedented. Before this ruling, no state supreme court has refused to recognize a same-sex parent’s adoption from another state – or any out-of-state adoption – based on a disagreement with how the court issuing the adoption interpreted its own adoption laws. Under the United States Constitution’s Full Faith and Credit Clause, states are required to respect court judgments, including adoption orders, issued by courts in other states. V.L.’s request says “this Court’s review of the Alabama Supreme Court’s decision is urgently needed” because “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.”
V.L and E.L. were in a long-term same-sex relationship in which they planned and raised three children together, using donor insemination. To ensure that both had secure parental rights, V.L., the non-biological mother, adopted the couples’ three children in Georgia in 2007, with E.L.’s support and written consent. When the two later broke up, E.L. kept V.L. from seeing the children, fighting her request for visitation, and arguing that the Georgia adoption was invalid in Alabama, where they live.
On September 18, 2015, the Alabama Supreme Court issued an order refusing to recognize V.L.’s Georgia adoption and declaring that it is “void.” Even though V.L. raised the children from birth and both women participated in the adoption hearing and consented to the adoption, the Court broke with more than a century of precedent requiring states to honor court judgments from other states. Disregarding this clear precedent, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that Alabama can treat the adoption as void based on the Alabama Supreme Court’s view that the Georgia court should not have granted the adoption in 2007.
The children’s Guardian Ad Litem will also file a motion to allow the children to visit V.L. pending the appeal, arguing that the children will be harmed if they are not allowed to have visitation with V.L.
V.L is represented by the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), Adam Unikowsky and Paul Smith of Jenner & Block, and Alabama attorneys Heather Fann of Boyd, Fernambucq, Dunn & Fann, P.C., and Traci Vella of Vella & King, Attorneys at Law.
The children’s Guardian Ad Litem is Tobie J. Smith of the Legal Aid Society of Birmingham, who is represented by Marc Hearron of Morrison & Foerster LLP.
“The Alabama Supreme Court’s ruling violates the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the U.S. Constitution,” said NCLR Family Law Director Cathy Sakimura. “The Constitution requires every state to give full faith and credit to adoptions granted by courts in other states, regardless of whether it agrees with another state’s adoption policy or thinks the adoption was wrongly granted. The Alabama Supreme Court had no legal ability to second-guess the Georgia court’s judgment. As a result of that serious constitutional violation, the children in this case have been wrongly separated from one of their parents, and the stability of adoption judgments across the country has been called into question. We are hopeful the Court will review this unprecedented decision and ensure that other states do not go down this dangerous and unlawful path.”
“I love my children more than anything,” said V.L. “I haven’t had visitation with my kids since April, and there isn’t a moment that goes by that I don’t think about them and pray that we’ll be able to be together again soon. I just want to hold them and feel their arms around me. No parent and child should ever be separated because a court refuses to follow the law and recognize adoptions from other states. I adopted my children more than eight years ago to be sure that I could always protect them. This is a terrible decision that is hurting my family and will hurt so many other families if it is not corrected.”
The Alabama Supreme Court has a long history of issuing decisions that discriminate against LGBT people. In 2002, Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, who joined a majority opinion denying custody to a lesbian mother, wrote a concurring opinion stating that “the homosexual conduct of a parent…creates a strong presumption of unfitness that alone is sufficient justification for denying that parent custody of his or her own children or prohibiting the adoption of the children of others.” Ex Parte H.H., 830 So.2d 21, 26 (Ala. 2002) (Moore, C.J., concurring). He wrote that “Homosexual conduct is, and has been, considered abhorrent, immoral, detestable, a crime against nature, and a violation of the laws of nature and of nature’s God upon which this Nation and our laws are predicated. Such conduct violates both the criminal and civil laws of this State and is destructive to a basic building block of society—the family. The law of Alabama is not only clear in its condemning such conduct, but the courts of this State have consistently held that exposing a child to such behavior has a destructive and seriously detrimental effect on the children. It is an inherent evil against which children must be protected.” Earlier this year, the Alabama Supreme Court ordered Alabama officials not to issue same-sex marriage licenses to same-sex couples, even after federal district court invalidated Alabama’s prohibition on same-sex marriage. Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s June decision affirming the fundamental constitutional right of same-sex couples to marry, Chief Justice Moore stated that the Court had “destroyed the institution of God.”