The U.S. Supreme Court announced on Tuesday it won’t hear an appeal of a case that sought to protect adoption rights for gay couples.
The court denied the petition for a writ of certiorari, which was filed by Lambda Legal, in the case of Adar v. Smith. Justices didn’t offer a comment on why they wouldn’t hear the lawsuit, which effectively ended the path for the litigation.
Kenneth Upton, supervising senior staff attorney in Lambda’s south central regional office in Dallas, said the Supreme Court is “leaving untouched a dangerous” previously issued ruling that leaves same-sex parents who have adopted or plan to adopt “treated differently from state to state.”
“By denying this writ, the Supreme Court is leaving untouched a dangerous Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that carves out an exception to the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the U.S. Constitution and to the uniformly recognized respect for judgments that states have come to rely upon,” Upton said. “This decision leaves adopted children and their parents vulnerable in their interactions with officials from other states.”
The case involves Oren Adar and Mickey Smith, a gay couple who in 2006 adopted their Louisiana-born son in New York, where a judge issued an adoption decree. In 2007, the couple attempted to obtain a new birth certificate for their child in part so Smith could extend his health insurance coverage to his son.
However, State Registrar Darlene Smith wouldn’t issue a certificate with both adopted parents’ names, saying Louisiana doesn’t recognize adoption by unmarried parents.
In October 2007, Lambda filed a lawsuit on the basis that the registrar was violating the U.S. Constitution’s Full Faith and Credit Clause and Equal Protection Clause. Lambda argued that under the Full Faith and Credit Clause, judgments issued by a court in one state, such as New York, must be legally binding in other states, such as Louisiana.
Judges have ruled in varying ways as the lawsuit has made its way through the courts. In 2008, a U.S. district court ruled in favor of plaintiffs and ordered the Louisiana registrar to issue a new birth certificate identifying both Adar and Mickey Smith as the parents. In 2010, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed the judgment.
However, under appeal, a ten-member majority of the full Fifth Circuit in April issued a decision ruling in favor of the Louisiana registrar and overturning the prior decisions. The Supreme Court’s decision not to take up the case leaves the appellate court’s decision as it stands.
Jennifer Chrisler, executive director of the Family Equality Council, expressed sadness over the high court’s decision not to take up the case.
“My heart breaks for these parents, and for children across the country who lack the legal relationship with their parents,” Chrisler said. “A growing number of LGBT parents are creating their families through adoption and although they are bound together by love, we cannot allow states to deny them legal recognition.”
Lambda’s Upton said advocates will take up the issue with the Louisiana state legislature to ensure same-sex couples have protections for their adopted children.
“This issue now moves into the legislative arena,” Upton said. “We need to push for a change in Louisiana state policy in order to stabilize and standardize respect for parent-child relationships for all adoptive children.”
Whether the push for change at the state level will be successful remains to be seen. The Louisiana House is controlled by Republicans; while the Senate has a Democratic majority. Republican Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is known for holding anti-gay views.
Jennifer Pizer, legal director of the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, said the Supreme Court’s decision lets stand a “troubling precedent” that could impact not just adoption but also other family rights and court judgments.
“And, yes, to be clear, the implications for LGBT people are potentially very substantial,” Pizer continued. “As states continue to diverge — with some offering full equality to LGBT people and others still moving firmly in the other direction — interstate questions are likely to proliferate, especially with respect to family issues involving same-sex couples, transgender people, and their children.”
Pizer said the push to have the Supreme Court take up the case was “an exceedingly long shot” because justices only accept “a tiny fraction of review petitions” each year. Over the course of the upcoming years, Pizer said she expects the Fifth Circuit’s reasoning will likely be rejected by other courts “as inconsistent” with the purpose of the Full Faith and Credit Clause.
“It is not uncommon for the U.S. Supreme Court to wait until a split develops among federal circuits, sketching out the different ways an issue can be seen and the scope of consequences in the various cases, before taking a case like this,” Pizer continued. “But it’s difficult for those affected during that process, especially when a new limiting principle newly closes courthouse doors and the needs of parents and children are ignored and, in most instances, ultimately denied.”