(Washington, D.C., December 14, 2015)—Today, the U.S. Supreme Court granted an Alabama lesbian mother’s request for an emergency stay of an Alabama Supreme Court order refusing to recognize her adoption of her three children. The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling today suspends the Alabama Supreme Court decision so that she will be able to have visitation pending the Court’s consideration of her case.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas referred the application, which was joined by the children’s guardian ad litem, to the entire court, which wrote in its decision granting the request to stay the Alabama court order: “The applications for recall and stay of the Supreme Court of Alabama’s Certificate of Judgment, in case No. 1140595, presented to Justice Thomas and by him referred to the Court, are granted pending the disposition of the petition for a writ of certiorari. Should the petition for a writ of certiorari be denied, this stay shall terminate automatically. In the event the petition for a writ of certiorari is granted, the stay shall terminate upon the issuance of the mandate of this Court.”
“I’m overjoyed that my children and I will be able to be together again,” said V.L. “It’s been so long—more time that I ever thought I could bear—since we have been able to be together and just do the everyday things that parents do with their children, like having dinner together and helping them with their homework. I adopted my children more than eight years ago to be sure that I could always be there to protect them. This terrible Alabama decision has hurt my family and will hurt so many other families if it is not corrected.”
On November 16th, V.L. asked the U.S. Supreme Court for an emergency order permitting her to visit her children—ages 13, 11, and 11—who she hasn’t had visitation with since April, even though she has raised them from their birth. A separate request for the U.S. Supreme Court to review the Alabama Supreme Court decision refusing to recognize her as an adoptive parent and holding that Alabama does not have to recognize second-parent adoptions granted by Georgia courts is pending.
In her request to the U.S. Supreme Court, V.L. noted 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 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 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.
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.
Said NCLR Family Law Director Cathy Sakimura: “I am relieved for V.L. and her children that they can be reunited. For any adoptive parent, it would be unthinkable that their adoption could be invalidated years later and that they could be separated from their children for months while they fought to be recognized. V.L. and her children have already endured what no parent or child should ever have to experience.”
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.