Steven H. Snyder & Associates Attorneys at Law

Supreme Court case concerning same-sex parental rights in the news

When a same-sex couple considers their options for starting a family, they may decide to have children using assisted reproduction. They want to have biological children just like any other couple, and they have several options that they may use in order to welcome a child into the world.

In some circumstances, this can cause serious problems if certain precautions are not taken. A case involving a lesbian couple from Alabama was recently decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, and the decision provides a reminder about the steps they must take to ensure that their parental rights are protected.

The couple, who originally lived in Georgia, decided that they wanted to have children. They eventually had three children, all three conceived using assisted reproduction. One of the parents gave birth to all three children, and the other parent adopted the children. Completing this adoption process was critical to the eventual protection of the non-biological mother in this case. Without it, she could have lost all her parental rights when the couple later separated.

After the children were born, the family moved to Alabama. The couple decided to end their relationship at some point, leading to a serious custody dispute. The non-biological, non-birth parent tried to assert her parental rights, and the birth parent attempted to contest these rights. The case made its way through the entire Alabama court system.

Lower courts had ruled in the "adoptive" parent's favor, and had stated that the non-biological parent was entitled to her parental rights based on the previous adoption proceedings in Georgia. These lower-court rulings were rooted in the concept of "full faith and credit," a constitutional principle that requires all states to recognize court judgments from other states, even if those judgments are contrary to the stated public policy of the second state. Nevertheless, these rulings were appealed. Eventually the case was heard by the Alabama Supreme Court, which has a long history of unfavorable rulings against same-sex couples.

The Alabama Supreme Court ignored full faith and credit and ruled that the Georgia courts had wrongly allowed the adoption to proceed. This meant that the adoptive parent lost all of her parental rights. The non-biological mother appealed the court's decision, asserting that Alabama had to recognize the Georgia adoptions under full faith and credit. The United States Supreme Court agreed with her position and ruled that the adoptions were valid and had to be recognized by the Alabama courts .

This case is extremely important because it highlights some of the ongoing issues facing same-sex couples when they have children even when they take all the necessary legal precautions. But for the fact that this non-biological legal mother had taken the necessary precaution of completing adoptions of her intended children in this matter, she would have lost all of her intended parental rights when the parties later separated. You and your partner need to be informed about all of the steps that you must take to ensure that you are able to carry out your wishes.

Careful long-term planning is necessary any time that assisted reproduction becomes a serious option. You need to talk to an experienced attorney to ensure that you know and understand all of your obligations before making any final decisions. The law varies greatly from state to state, and it is important to know how these laws will impact your specific situation. 

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