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May 14, 2009

FL Appellate Court Holds that FL Courts Must Recognize Out-of-State Gay Adoptions

File under culture war:

In a decision released yesterday, the Florida appeals court held that the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the U.S. Constitution requires Florida courts to give "exacting respect" to the adoption decree of a Washington court. The decision is here (PDF).

The case doesn't break new ground; it just drives home the issues we will all likely be grappling with as gay families become more common. Details are below the fold.

When they lived in Washington in 2000, lesbian couple Kimberly Ryan and Lara Embry each gave birth to a child and then adopted the others' child. Four years later, after they'd moved to Florida, they split up but agreed to joint custody. Ryan later married a man (guess she was bi) and in 2007 attempted to prevent Embry from having any contact with her (Ryan's) biological child. Embry sued to assert her parental rights.

Ryan argued that the Florida court should not recognize the adoption judgment of a Washington court because it is the public policy of Florida to prohibit adoption by gays. Florida has had a law for over thirty years which prohibits gays from adopting. The trial court agreed with Ryan, relying on the adoption law, and dismissed the case. The appellate court reversed and remanded.

The appeals court is correct. The U.S. Supreme Court has been clear that while state courts do not have to defer to the laws of sister states, they must give "exacting" respect to the judgments of sister states' courts. This was the original purpose of the Full Faith and Credit Clause, which explicitly mentions "judicial proceedings". Under the Articles of Confederation, the state courts had been rather cheekily ignoring their sister states' judgments by allowing local residents to skip out on the adverse judgments of out-of-state courts. The Full Faith and Credit Clause put an end to that.

Here, the appellate court notes that the Washington adoption decree is a court judgment and so, regardless of the public policy of Florida, must be given full faith and credit. The ruling goes into effect in thirty days unless Ryan moves for rehearing.

Incidentally, last year the Florida gay adoption ban (that was relied on by the trial court to determine Florida public policy) was declared unconstitutional by a Florida court. The court held that there was no rational basis for discriminating against gays wishing to adopt, in part because state law allowed them to be foster parents. The plaintiff there was fairly sympathetic; he'd been the kid's foster parent for four or five years and then wanted to adopt him. That case was appealed and is still pending.

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posted by Gabriel Malor at 09:15 PM

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