Civil Rights Groups Denounce Court Decision in Second-Parent Adoption Case

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Decision could harm thousands of children
October 26, 2001

A state appellate court in San Diego released a extreme and unprecedented decision yesterday, that could have severe consequences for thousands of adopted children in families throughout California.

The case, Sharon S. v. Superior Court, involved a dispute over the validity of second-parent adoption, the only procedure by which both members of a same-sex or other unmarried couple can become the legal parents of their children. In a decision that is sending shock waves throughout the state, the court appeared to call into question the legitimacy of these longstanding adoptions. “Never before has a court anywhere in the country purported to cast into doubt the validity of thousands of finalized adoption decrees,” said Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights in San Francisco.

Over the past fifteen years, trial courts across the state have routinely granted thousands of second-parent adoptions, and thousands of California families now rely on these adoption decrees to provide health insurance, Social Security, pension and inheritance rights, and other crucial benefits for their children.

In spite of this settled practice, the San Diego appellate court’s rigid interpretation of California’s adoption statutes says that trial courts never had the authority to grant second-parent adoptions. “This decision ignores two basic principles of California family law: that adoption statutes must be interpreted in light of the best interest of children; and that there is a strong public policy favoring the finality of adoption decrees,” said Jennifer Pizer, senior staff attorney for Lambda Legal Defense & Education Fund. “Besides depriving Joshua--the child involved in this case--of having two legal parents, the court’s decision could harm many other children and their families who were not even involved in the case, by casting doubt on their legal status.”

The court dismissed these concerns by saying that all these families could apply for new adoptions under AB 25, California’s new domestic partnership law, which goes into effect in January 2002. But, asks Jordan Budd, staff attorney for the ACLU of San Diego, “What about families who have moved out of state, and can’t qualify for a California domestic partnership? What about families where the birth parent has died--which would leave the child a legal orphan if the adoption is invalid? What about children who rely on an adoptive parent’s health insurance policy? This decision, if its effects aren’t restricted or overturned, could cause chaos for so many families.”

Civil rights groups expect that the California Supreme Court will review the case, and are also analyzing other strategies to minimize the harmful effects of this misguided decision.

ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties
Jordan Budd (619) 232-2121 x11

National Center for Lesbian Rights
Kate Kendell (415) 392-6257 or (415) 201-0439 pager
Shannon Minter (415) 794-6694

Lambda Legal Defense & Education Fund
Pat Logue 312-663-4413 ext. 30
Jennifer Pizer (213) 590-5903 (mobile)



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