FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE | May 7th, 2003
By Kate Kendell, Esq., Executive Director
(San Francisco, CA, May 7, 2003) — The morning of May 7th broke clear and sunny. The California Supreme Court courtroom was filled to capacity with those of us there to hear arguments in Sharon S. v. Superior Court of San Diego County. The decision in this case will determine whether second-parent adoptions will continue to be granted in California. While this ruling is somewhat less critical since the passage of AB25 which permits lesbian and gay domestic partners to use the step-parent adoption process, nevertheless a ruling invalidating the use of second-parent adoption would have severe national consequences and will impact some families in California who, for a host of reasons, are not able or willing to register as domestic partners but who still wish to both be legal parents.
This case began when Sharon's partner, Annette, filed a petition for second-parent adoption of their youngest son. The parties broke up shortly before the adoption was finalized, and Sharon attempted to get the court to dismiss the adoption petition. When the court refused, Sharon appealed to the California Court of Appeal. On appeal, Sharon argued not only that this particular adoption should not be granted, but that the court should rule that all second-parent adoptions are invalid. Unfortunately, the Court of Appeal agreed and decided not only that Annette could not proceed with her petition, but also that second-parent adoptions generally are not valid in California. Shockingly, in its original opinion, the Court also appeared to say that even second-parent adoptions that were granted years ago may be vulnerable to attack. This sentence was removed by the Court in a subsequent modified opinion.
On January 28, 2002, the California Supreme Court agreed to review the decision of the Court of Appeal. This decision to grant review automatically "depublished" the case, which means that the Court orders that the decision has been removed from the printed opinions and can no longer be cited or relied upon by other parties.
The oral argument went as well as we could have expected. Charles Bird, counsel for Annette, persuasively argued that trial courts should continue to have the flexibility to grant second-parent adoptions in appropriate cases. Several members of the Court seemed to concur with this view. Perhaps the most notable aspect of the argument was the suggestion by the attorney appointed to represent the minor child that all previously granted second-parent adoptions should be invalidated. This absurd and offensive notion completely fails to appreciate the devastating consequences of such an outcome and is either rooted in profound ignorance or outright prejudice. It was a shameful moment but fortunately the Court did not seem at all persuaded that such an outcome was necessary or correct.
In addition to filing an amicus brief supporting second-parent adoption with other LGBT organizations, NCLR coordinated a statewide amicus effort involving adoption and child welfare experts. A decision is within the next 60 days.
The National Center for Lesbian Rights is a national legal organization committed to advancing the civil and human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their families through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education.