Federal Court Strikes Down Oklahomas Extreme Antigay Adoption Law in Lawsuit Brought by Lambda Legal
(Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, May 19, 2006) — In a 31-page decision, a federal court struck down an Oklahoma law so extreme that it would have had the potential to make children adopted by same-sex couples in other states legal orphans when the families are in Oklahoma.
“Gay and lesbian parents in Oklahoma can now breathe a collective sigh of relief because their relationships with their children are no longer threatened by the state of Oklahoma,” said Ken Upton, Senior Staff Attorney in Lambda Legal’s South Central Regional Office and lead attorney on the case. “We’re gratified that justice has been handed down in our case and that the court saw to it that Oklahoma has to treat the children of gay and lesbian parents the same as all other kids.”
In the opinion released today, U. S. District Judge Robin Cauthron wrote, “The very fact that the adoptions have occurred is evidence that a court of law has found the adoptions to be in the best interests of the children... To now attempt to strip a child of one of his or her parents seems far removed from the statute’s purpose and therefore from Defendants’ asserted important government objective.”
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, due process and right to travel, as well as the mandates of the Full Faith and Credit Clause.
The Court found that the statute indeed violated the United States Constitution by singling out a specific group for discrimination and upheld all of Lambda Legal’s other claims, except the right to travel. The Court dismissed the claims of Lambda Legal clients, Ed Swaya and Greg Hampel because the Court found that the statute did not harm them since the state of Oklahoma granted the couple a birth certificate for their adopted daughter listing the two men as her parents and they did not face immediate harm.
Lambda Legal represents same-sex couples and their families who adopted children while living in other states and later moved to Oklahoma or want to visit the state with their family. Anne Magro and Heather Finstuen, together 14 years, are parents to seven-year-old twin girls born to Anne and adopted through a second-parent adoption by Heather when they lived in New Jersey. The family now lives in Norman, Oklahoma, where Anne teaches accounting at the University of Oklahoma. The Adoption Invalidation Law endangered the legal relationship established by a New Jersey court between Heather and her daughters.
Also plaintiffs in the case are Ed Swaya and Greg Hampel, who live in Washington State and adopted their three-year-old daughter, Vivian, after she was born in Oklahoma. The two men made news when the state of Oklahoma initially refused to issue an amended birth certificate that accurately reflected both men as Vivian’s parents after a court in Washington issued an adoption decree. Before the Adoption Invalidation Law was passed, the Oklahoma State Department of Health issued Vivian’s correct birth certificate, but Swaya and Hampel had feared bringing Vivian to Oklahoma to visit her birth mother and see the state where she was born before today’s decision put their fears at rest.
Ken Upton, Senior Staff Attorney in Lambda Legal’s South Central Regional Office in Dallas is Lambda Legal’s lead attorney on the case. He is joined by Lambda Legal Staff Attorney, Brian Chase, and cooperating attorney Sandy Ingraham of Ingraham & Associates, P.L.L.C. in McLoud, Oklahoma.
The Case is Finstuen et al v. Edmondson et al.
Contact: Mark Roy, 212-809-8585 ext.267