In re Infant Girl W.

Summary

In 2004, Indiana asked Becki Hamilton and Kim Brennan to be foster parents to a newborn infant, with the goal of adoption. Months later, a Morgan County foster care judge realized that Hamilton and Brennan were lesbians and ordered the state to find a married man and woman to adopt the child. Several months later, Hamilton and Brennan jointly adopted the child in another county. The foster care judge declared any adoption entered in another county was invalid, and that adoption by two women would be unacceptable to the people of Morgan County. He ordered the child removed from her home and placed with a married heterosexual couple. The state appealed the adoption order while Hamilton and Brennan appealed the removal order. Lambda Legal had counseled their local attorney about how to keep the family intact after the removal order was entered and represented Hamilton and Brennan in the appellate proceedings. We secured a victory at the Indiana Court of Appeals establishing the right of joint adoption by same-sex couples and confirming the legality of Hamilton and Brennan’s adoption. After the attorney general attempted a further appeal, we persuaded the Indiana supreme court not to review the case.

Context

For many years, Indiana courts have performed second-parent adoptions (where one partner adopts the other’s child) and joint adoptions (where a couple simultaneously adopts unrelated child). Additionally, second-parent adoption had been upheld by the Court of Appeals in several cases.

Lambda Legal's Impact

This case presented the first opportunity to recognize the right of joint adoption in Indiana, as well as a chance to address the common problem of individual judges who withhold rights based on their own or the community’s negative view of LGBT people rather than state law. Our victory established the right of gay and lesbian couples in Indiana to adopt jointly, and without facing discrimination in deciding who may adopt a foster child or whether a valid adoption will be honored.

History

  • September 2004 Child declared to be in need of services is placed with Hamilton and Brennan by Indiana child welfare agency with goal of adoption.
  • November 2004 Morgan County Juvenile Court judge realizes that child’s foster parents are a lesbian couple and orders agency to leave child where she is but find an adoptive placement with a heterosexual married couple.
  • April 2005 Over agency’s objection, Hamilton and Brennan jointly adopt child in Marion County Superior Court. Morgan County judge schedules a hearing about removal of the foster parents. Lambda Legal enters case and consults with Indiana counsel. Parents’ motion to dismiss is denied.
  • May 2005 Morgan County Juvenile Court refuses to recognize adoption as valid and continues its jurisdiction as if child still in foster care. Enters order to remove child from her legal parents and place with a married couple. Grants motion for injunction keeping child with parents pending appeal. State appeals the legality of the adoption order.
  • August 2005 Lambda Legal’s request for interlocutory appeal is granted. Appeal is consolidated with adoption appeal. Briefing ensues.
  • February 2006 Lambda Legal argues before the Indiana Court of Appeals that the Juvenile Court must honor the adoption decree and give up jurisdiction because the adoption was lawfully entered and in the child’s best interests.
  • April 2006 Indiana Court of Appeals finds that it is lawful for two unmarried persons to seek a joint adoption in Indiana, upholds Hamilton and Brennan’s joint adoption, and orders that the Juvenile Court dismiss its foster care proceeding.
  • May 2006 Indiana Attorney General files petition to transfer, seeking review of the decision by Indiana Supreme Court as well as an end to second-parent adoption in Indiana.
  • August 2006 Victory! After Lambda Legal files brief opposing transfer, state supreme court refuses to hear the case, leaving in place the appellate court ruling and case law permitting joint and second-parent adoptions in Indiana.

Case Information

Status: Closed
Outcome: Victory

Plaintiffs

Becki Hamilton, Kim Brennan (Petitioners)

Attorneys

Lambda Legal
Patricia M. Logue

Co-counsel/Cooperating Attorneys
Barbara J. Baird from the Law Offices of Barbara J. Baird in Indianapolis, IN; Loretta Oleksy assisted in juvenile court