WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday restored the visitation rights of an adoptive mother who had split with her lesbian partner. The Alabama Supreme Court had refused to recognize the woman’s adoptions of three children, the subject of a 2007 judgment from a Georgia court.
That was a mistake, the United States Supreme Court said in an unsigned opinion without noted dissents. “The Georgia judgment appears on its face to have been issued by a court with jurisdiction, and there is no established Georgia law to the contrary,” the Supreme Court’s opinion said. “The Alabama Supreme Court erred in refusing to grant that judgment full faith and credit.”
The two women in the case, V.L. v. E.L., No. 15-648, were in a committed relationship that started in 1995 and lasted about 17 years. They shared a last name.
One of them, identified in court papers as E.L., gave birth to a child in 2002 and to twins in 2004, both times by insemination from an anonymous donor. They raised the children together in Alabama until they broke up in 2011, and the adoptive mother, V.L., continued to see the children for a time afterward.
When a dispute about the visits arose, V.L. turned to an Alabama court, which granted her visitation rights based on the Georgia adoption judgment. The Alabama Supreme Court reversed that, saying in an unsigned opinion that the Georgia judgment was not entitled to the “full faith and credit” ordinarily required by the Constitution “to the public acts, records and judicial proceedings of every other state.”
The Alabama Supreme Court reasoned that the Georgia court had misunderstood Georgia law in allowing the adoption, saying that “Georgia law makes no provision for a non-spouse to adopt a child without first terminating the parental rights of the current parents.”
In a concurrence, Justice Tom Parker wrote that “the state 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.”
In an earlier opinion, Chief Justice Roy S. Moore wrote that “the homosexual conduct of a parent” is “sufficient justification for denying that parent custody of his or her own children or prohibiting the adoption of the children of others.”
In urging the Supreme Court to restore the visitation order while the justices consider whether to hear the case, lawyers for the adoptive mother said that her children “are on the cusp of adolescence,” at ages 10 and 12, “a very important period in a child’s life, and V.L. will never be able to regain this time with her children once it is lost.”
They added that Alabama was alone in refusing to recognize another state’s court judgment allowing the adoption of a child by a member of a same-sex couple.
A court-appointed lawyer for the three children also asked the court to restore the adoptive mother’s visitation rights, saying the Alabama Supreme Court’s ruling “already is working a pernicious harm” and is “antithetical to the children’s best interests and the reality that they have known their whole lives.”
Lawyers for E.L., the biological mother, said the case was not important enough to warrant the Supreme Court’s attention. They added that the Georgia adoption order was not entitled to respect because the women had only pretended to live in Georgia, which has a six-month residency requirement for adoptions.
In Monday’s opinion, the Supreme Court said the case was a simple one. “A state may not disregard the judgment of a sister state because it disagrees with the reasoning underlying the judgment or deems it to be wrong on the merits,” the opinion said.