Thursday, August 09, 2007

Gay Adoption Now Recognized in Oklahoma

From NewsOK:

Sat August 4, 2007

Victory for gay adoptive parents

By Robert E. Boczkiewicz
Special Correspondent

DENVER — The federal appeals court in Denver on Friday struck down Oklahoma's law that bans state recognition of out-of-state adoptions by same-sex parents.

The ruling is a victory for gay and lesbian couples who adopt children. It is a defeat for Oklahoma legislators who passed the law in 2004 and for the Oklahoma Department of Health, which sought to uphold the law.

"We hold that final adoption orders by a state court of competent jurisdiction are judgments that must be given full faith and credit under the Constitution by every other state in the nation,” the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals concluded in a 35-page decision.

"Because the Oklahoma statute at issue categorically rejects a class of out-of-state adoption decrees, it violates the Full Faith and Credit Clause” of the U.S. Constitution, the judges wrote.

The Constitution states that "Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State.”

Accordingly, they affirmed a ruling last year by U.S. District Judge Robin Cauthron in Oklahoma City that declared the law unconstitutional.

The Health Department, which issues birth certificates, had appealed Cauthron's ruling.

Three sets of same-sex parents had sued to strike down the law, arguing that it unconstitutionally singled out a specific group for discrimination.

A top lawyer for the department, Thomas Cross, said department officials have not seen Friday's decision and therefore could not yet comment on it.

Cross, speaking from Oklahoma City, said officials may be able to comment Tuesday after department attorneys on Monday review the decision and brief top managers of the department.

An attorney for the same-sex parents, Kenneth Upton, speaking from his office in Dallas, said, "We're just real happy for these parents and their kids.”

Upton, of the gay-rights group, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, said no other state has a similar law. "This was the most extreme example of punishing children because you don't approve of their parents.”

He said the law punished children because it legally orphaned them. "What the state was saying (to the children) is that they are not your parents. That is just wrong.”

"I think it (the law) jeopardized the safety and well-being of children” by not recognizing the adoptive parents as legal parents, Upton said.

Friday's decision directed the Health Department to issue a new birth certificate for "E.D.,” a child who was born in Oklahoma but adopted in California by a lesbian couple.

Attorney General Drew Edmondson, in a legal opinion to the department, said the Full Faith and Credit Clause required Oklahoma to recognize any validly issued out-of-state adoption decree. A month later, legislators passed the 2004 law.

All three judges of the court panel that considered the case agreed the department must issue the birth certificate.

Two of the three judges formed the majority declaring the law unconstitutional. They are David Ebel of Denver and Terrence O'Brien of Cheyenne, Wyo. The third judge, Harris Hartz of Albuquerque, N.M., said it was not necessary to decide whether the law is constitutional.

He reached that conclusion because he said that the department conceded, once the case reached the appeals court, that the law being challenged "does not preclude issuance” of the certificate for "E.D.”

Hartz said the department, when the case got to the higher court, argued that laws other than the one the parents challenged prohibit issuance of the certificate.

Because the department never made that argument to Cauthron, the appeals court should not consider it, Hartz said.


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