Giancaspro v. Congleton

Summary

Diane Giancaspro and Lisa Ann Congleton adopted three children together in Illinois before moving as a family to Michigan. In August 2007 when the couple ended their relationship, Giancaspro filed papers asking a Michigan trial court to determine custody of the children. Congleton moved to dismiss the case, saying that the adoption was invalid under the Michigan Child Custody Act the state’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex couples from marrying. The Michigan trial court granted Congleton’s motion, rendering both parties’ parental rights unenforceable in the state.

The ruling called into question whether the children were legal orphans in Michigan. The result of the ruling impedes essential things like authorizing medical treatment at a public hospital, enrolling the children in school or recovering a lost child from a local police department. The children no longer had an enforceable legal connection to either parent. In March 2008, Lambda Legal and the ACLU of Michigan successfully urged the Michigan Court of Appeals to reverse the trial court’s ruling, arguing that it violated the federal Constitution's Full Faith and Credit clause — a law that protects the validity of judicial decrees across state lines. We also pointed out that Michigan’s antigay amendment limiting who may marry pertains only to adult relationships and has no bearing on custody cases.

Context

Michigan voters passed an amendment to the state's constitution in 2004, prohibiting marriage between same-sex couples. But it said nothing about parent-child relationships. Additionally, because a growing number of children in the United States are being raised by same-sex couples — and many states would discriminate against these couples — the U.S. Constitution necessarily provides universal protections for these families, including respect for their parent-child relationships.

Lambda Legal's Impact

This case clarifies that parent-child relationships in Michigan are not affected by the state's antigay constitutional amendment that prohibits marriage between same-sex couples. It also reinforces the constitutional principle that adoption decrees, and the parent-child relationships they create, are entitled to respect in every state — notwithstanding local laws to the contrary.

History

  • March 2008 Lambda Legal and the ACLU of Michigan file brief with the Michigan Court of Appeals on behalf of Giancaspro, asking to reverse the trial court’s ruling.
  • August 2008 Lambda Legal urges the Michigan Court of Appeals to reverse the trial court because the court’s refusal to adjudicating custody violates the full faith and credit mandate of the U.S. Constitution.
  • February 2009 Victory! The Michigan Court of Appeals rules in favor of Giancaspro.

Case Information

Status: Closed

Plaintiffs

Diane Giancaspro

Attorneys

Lambda Legal
Camilla Taylor, Kenneth D. Upton, Jr.

Co-counsel/Cooperating Attorneys
Jay D. Kaplan, Michael J. Steinberg and Kary L. Moss of the American Civil Liberties Union Fund of Michigan in Detroit