EQUALITY IN THE COURTS: Federal Appeals Court Orders Louisiana to Issue Birth Certificate for Child
February 19, 2010
In this blog series, HRC attorneys discuss news and break down the legal theories in Supreme Court and federal court cases. This post is from Emilie Adams, HRC’s Staff Counsel:
Yesterday, in Adar v. Smith, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upheld a lower court decision requiring Louisiana officials to provide a new birth certificate listing two men as the fathers of their adopted son, finding that the refusal to do so violated the Full Faith and Credit Clause, a provision of the U.S. Constitution that requires states respect the judgments of courts in other states. The ruling, finding that out-of-state adoptions are owed full faith and credit under the U.S. Constitution, marks a significant victory for the rights of adoptive parents and provides important protections for their families. Oren Adar and Mickey Ray Smith adopted their son, who was born in Louisiana in 2005, shortly after his birth. The couple, who lived in Connecticut at the time, adopted their son under New York law that authorizes joint adoptions by unmarried, same-sex couples. Despite an adoption decree from a New York court, officials at the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals refused to issue a new birth certificate reflecting the child’s new name and relationship to his adoptive parents. The Department was backed up by the Louisiana Attorney General, who issued an opinion that Louisiana did not owe full faith and credit to the New York adoption because it violated Louisiana’s public policy of not allowing joint adoption by unmarried persons. In 2007, the couple filed suit in federal district court in Louisiana, arguing that the refusal to issue a new birth certificate violated both the Full Faith and Credit and Equal Protection Clauses of the U.S. Constitution, and seeking a mandatory injunction requiring the state to issue the new certificate.
In 2008, the district court ruled for Adar and Smith. On appeal, the Fifth Circuit yesterday upheld that decision, declaring that the adoptive parents’ rights and status “are not confined within [New York’s] borders and do not cease to exist at Louisiana’s borders.” Echoing the U.S. Supreme Court, the Fifth Circuit made clear in its decision that there is no “roving public policy exception” to the Full Faith and Credit Clause. In fact, the Court found that the plain meaning of Louisiana law governing the issuance of new birth certificates after an adoption already required that the Registrar do so. We congratulate the Adar-Smith family, and our friends at Lambda Legal who represented them in their case, for standing up to a state that saw discrimination as more important than the welfare of a child who found a loving home.