U.S. Court of Appeals Rules in Favor of Lambda Legal Clients Seeking Birth Certificate for Adopted Child
(New Orleans, February 18, 2010) – The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today that the Louisiana Registrar of Vital Statistics must respect a New York adoption by a same-sex couple of a Louisiana-born baby boy.
The three-member panel voted unanimously to uphold a lower court ruling in favor of Lambda Legal clients Oren Adar and Mickey Ray Smith. Adar and Smith are a gay couple who adopted their Louisiana-born son in 2006 in New York, where a judge issued an adoption decree. When the couple attempted to get a new birth certificate for their child, in part so Smith could add his son to his health insurance, the registrar's office told him that Louisiana does not recognize adoption by unmarried parents and so could not issue it.
"Even our opponents have said this is a landmark case, and we're pleased the court agrees that it's wrong to punish children just because the Registrar doesn't like their parents," said Ken Upton, Supervising Senior Staff Attorney for Lambda Legal. "Once again, the court is saying that the Constitution requires state officials across the country to respect the parent-child relationships established by adoption decrees, regardless of the state where that decree is entered."
Lambda Legal filed suit on behalf of Adar and Smith in October 2007, saying that the registrar was violating the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the U.S. Constitution by refusing to recognize the New York adoption. The Constitution requires that judgments and orders issued by a court in one state be legally binding in other states as well. The Louisiana attorney general disagreed, and advised the registrar that she did not have to honor an adoption from another state that would not have been granted under Louisiana law had the couple lived and adopted there. Last December, U.S. District Judge Jay Zainey ruled against the registrar and issued a summary judgment ordering her to issue a new birth certificate identifying both Oren Adar and Mickey Smith as the boy's parents, saying her continued failure to do so violated the U.S. Constitution. The attorney general appealed the case.
"We're pleased our son will finally have a birth certificate where he sees both his parents included," said plaintiff Oren Adar. "A birth certificate is more than a piece of paper; it's at the heart of your identity."
Upton also represented Lambda Legal clients before the 10th Circuit in Finstuen v. Crutcher, another case involving same-sex couples with adopted children. The court struck 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.
Kenneth D. Upton, Jr., Supervising Senior Staff Attorney is handling the case for Lambda Legal. He is joined by Regina O. Matthews and Spencer R. Doody of Martzell & Bickford in New Orleans.
The case is Adar v. Smith.