The Slate, an internet news blog, released an article by Dahlia Lithwick on March 7, 2016 announcing a major decision by the Supreme Court of the US (SCOTUS) holding that a same-sex marriage in Georgia that involved adoption of children must be recognized in Alabama. The issue centered around the legality of an adoption by the same-sex couple that was performed in Georgia and then denied when they moved to Alabama. The article is titled “A Big Win for Same-Sex Adoption at the Supreme Court.”
The major significance of the ruling is that this SCOTUS decision affirms that same-gender marriages have the same legal status as heterosexual marriages across the US. It strengthens prior decisions that same-sex marriage partners are entitled to federal equality for tax purposes, for processing of same-sex marriage licenses in all states, and now for adoption rights. The decision was unanimous, and no hearings were required for the court to make the decision.
The circumstances of the case that was heard in the Alabama supreme court were that a same-sex couple that was in a long-term relationship had three children, with one woman as the host for the pregnancies. The other partner had adopted the children. After 19 years, the couple split without ever being married. The other partner sought custody and visitation rights based upon her having adopted the children while the couple resided in Georgia. Alabama refused to recognize the adoption, and denied visitation and shared custody to the other woman.
Professor Tobias Barrington Wolff of the University of Pennsylvania Law School wrote an amicus brief to SCOTUS outlining the grounds for forcing Alabama to recognize the adoption that was allowed by Georgia courts.
This ruling marks a major turning point. The court has reaffirmed that full faith and credit—one of the cornerstones of our system of government—applies to same-sex couples and their families. And the summary reversal and unanimous vote both signal to courts around the country that the obligation to treat same-sex couples equally in our legal system cannot be avoided, whether through clever tactics or outright hostility.
Whatever your view on the morality of same-sex marriages and relationships, the legality of these arrangements have been affirmed by SCOTUS to apply in all states. It should be noted that many religiously oriented elected representatives are still trying to reverse the effects of Roe v Wade allowing abortions. SCOTUS has recently been reeling in these attempts to deny abortions in Louisiana and Texas by establishing conditions that effectively shut down the operations of abortion clinics. Ohio has established similar restrictions on abortion clinics by requiring formal affiliation relationships with hospitals. These restrictions have not been applied to outpatient surgical centers and other similar high risk operations. Attempts to skirt this decision by SCOTUS on equality of rights of same-sex partners are to be expected.
There is an ancient Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times.” SCOTUS is in the midst of very interesting times, and the times are changing. With the inaction of Congress that is gridlocked in continuing partisan skirmishes, the states are continuing to define boundaries of rights and freedoms. SCOTUS is continuing to decide the constitutionality of the states’ efforts. This is one more, and perhaps final, step in establishing equal rights for same-sex relationships.