U. S. Court of Appeals Upholds Decision Striking Down Oklahoma's Adoption Invalidation Law in Lawsuit Brought by Lambda Legal
(Denver, August 3, 2007) — In a 35-page decision, a panel of the U. S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit rejected the Oklahoma Department of Health's challenge to a lower court decision striking down an Oklahoma law so extreme that it threatened to make children adopted by same-sex couples in other states legal orphans when the families are in Oklahoma. The ruling is important not only in Oklahoma, but also to families across the United States, including in Seattle and Houston, home to two of the families who joined in the suit.
"Today's decision supports the lower court's finding that same-sex couples who choose to adopt are entitled under the U.S. Constitution to have their relationships with their children respected in every state," said Ken Upton, Senior Staff Attorney in Lambda Legal's South Central Regional Office and lead attorney on the case. "The Adoption Invalidation Law was reckless legislation that jeopardized the safety and well-being of children and undermined parents' rights."
Although the governor and attorney general were content to abide by the lower court's finding, the Oklahoma Commissioner of Health sought review of a part of the judgment that required the Department of Health to issue an amended birth certificate to the adopted child of a same-sex couple that accurately reflected both women as the child's legal parents. The Court rejected the challenge and affirmed the judgment requiring issuance of a proper birth certificate. In doing so, the 10th Circuit panel also agreed with Lambda Legal that the law violated the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
In the opinion released today, U. S. Senior Circuit Judge David M. Ebel wrote, "final adoption orders by a state court of competent jurisdiction are judgments that must be given full faith and credit under the Constitution by every other state in the nation. Because the Oklahoma statute at issue categorically rejects a class of out-of-state adoption decrees, it violates the Full Faith and Credit Clause."
The Adoption Invalidation Law, hastily passed at the end of the 2004 Oklahoma legislative session, had said that Oklahoma "shall not recognize an adoption by more than one individual of the same sex from any other state or foreign jurisdiction." Lambda Legal argued that the law was unconstitutional based on the United States Constitution's guarantees of equal protection and due process, as well as the mandates of the Full Faith and Credit Clause.
Today's decision leaves intact a decision by the U.S. Court for the Western District of Oklahoma that agreed with these challenges and held that the statute indeed violates the United States Constitution by singling out a specific group. Neither the governor nor the attorney general of Oklahoma challenged the trial court's decision that struck down the antigay Adoption Invalidation Law. The appellate court's decision also requires the Oklahoma Department of Health to issue a birth certificate to the daughter of a same-sex couple in Oklahoma accurately listing the names of both parents.
In addition to same-sex couples raising children in Oklahoma, the ruling benefits same-sex couples and their families in other states, including two of the couples who brought suit, Heather Finstuen and Anne Magro , now living in Houston, and Ed Swaya and Greg Hampel of Seattle, by ensuring they can travel in Oklahoma without fear their children will be rendered legal orphans.
Ken Upton, Senior Staff Attorney in Lambda Legal's South Central Regional Office in Dallas, is lead attorney on the case, with assistance from Senior Staff Attorney Brian Chase. Sandy Ingraham of Ingraham & Associates, P.L.L.C. in McLoud, Oklahoma, served as cooperating attorney in Finstuen et al v. Edmondson et al.
Jason Howe: 213-382-7600 ext.247; Cell: 347-512-3358
Lambda Legal is a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and those with HIV through impact litigation, education and public policy work.