California Supreme Court Overturns Misguided Second-Parent Adoption Decision

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Lambda Legal applauds court's decision to ensure the safety of California families
August 5, 2003

(LOS ANGELES Monday, August 4, 2003) - Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund applauds today’s California Supreme Court's decision affirming the validity of second-parent adoptions, which permit both partners in a lesbian or gay couple to establish a legal relationship with the couple's children. Six of the seven California Supreme Court Justices reversed a decision of the California Court of Appeal. The case, Sharon S. v. Superior Court, involved a dispute over the validity of second-parent adoption, which allows both members of a same-sex or other unmarried couple to become the legal parents of their children. In an October, 2001 decision that sent shock waves throughout the state, the lower court appeared to call into question the legitimacy of these longstanding adoptions. Even as modified a month later, the decision still created confusion in an area affecting thousands of children in families throughout California. “This is a great victory for gay parents everywhere,” said Jennifer Pizer, senior staff attorney for Lambda Legal. “By affirming second parent adoption, the California Supreme Court remedied an appalling lower court decision that ignored the best interests of children and created confusion where California families need clarity and stability." Writing for the majority, Justice Werdegar held that "second parent adoptions offer the possibility of obtaining the security and advantages of two parents for some of California's neediest children." Justice Werdegar also stressed the importance of providing legal protections and stability for children born to same-sex and other unmarried couples: "Unmarried couples who have brought a child into the world with the expectation that they will raise it together, and who have jointly petitioned for adoption, should be on notice that if they separate the same rules concerning custody and visitation as apply to all other parents will apply to them." Without a second-parent adoption, many children are not entitled to financial support or the right to automatic inheritance from one of their day-to-day, real-life parents, and will be unable to claim Social Security, retirement or state worker compensation benefits if the non-legal parent dies or is incapacitated. The child may be denied health or other insurance benefits from the non-legal parent's employer, and the non-legal parent may not be able to consent to emergency medical care or visit the child in the hospital. If the legal parent dies or become incapacitated, the child may become a ward of the state. Over the past 15 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 protections for their children. In spite of this settled practice, which has the approval of the California Department of Social Services, the lower appellate court’s unprecedented interpretation of California’s adoption statutes meant that trial courts lacked the authority to grant second-parent adoptions. Reversing that decision, the California Supreme Court now corrects that wrong. California is now the ninth jurisdiction in which an appellate court has approved second-parent adoptions. Other states in which appellate courts have approved this procedure include: the District of Columbia (1995), Illinois (1995), Indiana (2003), Massachusetts (1993), New Jersey (1995), New York (1995), Pennsylvania (2002), and Vermont (1993). In addition, state legislatures in three states -- California, Connecticut, and Vermont -- have enacted adoption statutes that explicitly permit same-sex partners to adopt, and second parent adoptions have been granted by trial courts in more than fifteen additional states. Altogether, second-parent adoptions are generally available in more than half the country.

Contact: Fred Shank, 212/809-8585 ext. 267


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