Ohio Appeals Court Denies Second-Parent Adoption to Lesbian Couple

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Disappointing' decision leaves girl with only one legal parent
December 16, 1998

(CHICAGO, December 16, 1998) -- Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund said that an Ohio appeals court Wednesday rejected a lesbian couple's request to allow a second-parent adoption, denying an eight-year-old girl the added protections of a second legally recognized parent.

In the first such ruling from an Ohio appellate court, the state Court of Appeals in Akron ruled in In re: Adoption of Jane Doe that second-parent adoptions, which allow a person to adopt the children of her or his unmarried partner without terminating the partner's parental status, were not possible for lesbian or gay parents under Ohio law.

Writing for a unanimous three-judge panel, Judge Sheila G. Farmer said, "Although we are mindful of the dilemma facing the parties and are sympathetic to their plight, it is not within the constitutional scope of judicial power to change the face and effect of the plain meaning of [Ohio adoption law]."

The mothers, "Trish Smith" and "Marcia Jones," have been in a committed relationship since 1981 and jointly planned to bring their daughter "Jane Doe" into the world via alternative insemination. Marcia is the biological mother but both women have raised Jane since her birth.

"This decision puts charcoal in Jane's stocking," said Patricia M. Logue, managing attorney of Lambda's Midwest Regional Office, who argued the mothers' case before the appeals court.

Logue added, "Adoption is supposed to be about what's best for children. It's disappointing that the court focused on narrow legal questions rather than on providing Jane with the security that other children take for granted -- like the right of both mothers to make medical decisions for her."

Lambda is now considering an appeal of the decision to the Ohio Supreme Court.

In 1996, the mothers asked the Summit County Court of Common Pleas to grant them a second- parent adoption, which are already available to non-gay stepparents in Ohio, and in an increasing number of states, to lesbian, gay, and other unmarried couples as well.

The trial court denied the request, saying that under the Ohio Adoption Act, Trish could not adopt Jane without first terminating Marcia's legal status as parent. On appeal, Lambda argued that previous adoption cases had established the court's authority to grant second-parent adoptions.

Lambda's co-counsel in the appeal, Peter T. Cahoon of Buckingham, Doolittle and Burroughs, and Ohio attorney James B. Chapman, represented Trish and Marcia in the trial court. Cleveland attorney Susan Becker filed a brief in support of the adoption on behalf of amici National Association of Social Workers, American Academy of Adolescent and Child Psychiatry, and the Lesbian/Gay Community Service Center of Greater Cleveland, and others.

Founded in 1973 and with offices in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Atlanta, Lambda is the nation's oldest and largest legal organization for lesbians, gay men, and people with HIV/AIDS.

(In Re: Adoption of Jane Doe, No. 19017)


Contact: Patricia Logue 312-663-4413; Peg Byron 212-809-8585, 888-987-1984 pager


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