Supreme Court Issues Groundbreaking Judgment on Full Faith & Credit Clause

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Supreme Court Issues Groundbreaking Judgment on Full Faith & Credit Clause

The Supreme Court recently granted judgment in an adoption case that strengthened the effect of the Full Faith & Credit Clause. The Court reversed the Alabama Supreme Court’s decision not to recognize a same-sex adoption decree issued in Georgia, ruling that because the decree was issued on proper jurisdictional grounds, the United States Constitution mandates that the judgment be recognized by Alabama.

The parties, E.L. and V.L., as referred to in the court documents, raised three children born to E.L. during their relationship. Although the couple never married, V.L. legally adopted the children in Georgia, where the couple was renting a home.

When their relationship dissolved, however, the women were living in Alabama. Since that time, V.L. has been fighting to have Alabama recognize her as the children’s legal mother, consistent with her Georgia court order.

Reporter Richard Wolf of USA Today wrote, “Now that they have split, E.L. agreed with the Alabama Supreme Court, which ruled in September that Georgia mistakenly granted V.L. joint custody. E.L.’s lawyers argued that ‘the Georgia court had no authority under Georgia law to award such an adoption, which is therefore void and not entitled to full faith and credit.’”

However, that appeared to be presumptuous.

Article IV, Section 1 of the United States Constitution contains the Full Faith and Credit clause, which obliges states to recognize the “public acts, records and judicial proceedings of every other state.”

The Supreme Court explained the breadth of the Clause, noting that, “A State may not disregard the judgment of a sister State because it disagrees with the reasoning underlying the judgment or deems it to be wrong on the merits.  On the contrary, ‘the full faith and credit clause’ of the Constitution precludes any inquiry into the merits of the cause of action, the logic or consistency of the decision, or the validity of the legal principles on which the judgment is based.” (citing Milliken v. Meyer, 311 U. S. 457, 462 (1940)).

The Full Faith and Credit clause benefits V.L. and others by ensuring that their parental rights are recognized not only in the state where the original judgment was issued, but also across the nation as a whole.

The Supreme Court also stated, “The Georgia judgment appears on its face to have been issued by a court with jurisdiction, and there is no established Georgia law to the contrary.  It follows that the Alabama Supreme Court erred in refusing to grant that judgment full faith and credit.”

Obviously, V.L.’s attorneys were thrilled with the Court’s ruling, as was the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

“The Supreme Court’s reversal of Alabama’s unprecedented decision to void an adoption from another state is a victory not only for our client but for thousands of adopted families,” said Cathy Sakimura, the Center’s family law director in a statement.  “No adoptive parent or child should have to face the uncertainty and loss of being separated years after their adoption just because another state’s court disagrees with the law that was applied in their adoption.”

In the USA Today article, Wolf mentioned that lawyers for V.L. argued that same-sex adoptions were granted since the 1980s, decades before same-sex marriage became legal.

According to data from the Williams Institute at UCLA, Wolf indicated that around 65,000 adoptive children reside with a gay or lesbian parent.

This groundbreaking Supreme Court Ruling will serve as precedent for other similar cases which may follow, and its effects might be seen in the realm of parental establishment in surrogacy cases as well.