Civil Rights Groups Denounce Ruling in Second-Parent Adoption Case; Saying Decision Could Harm Thousands of Children

October 26, 2001 12:00 am

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SAN DIEGO– A state appeals court here has released an extreme and unprecedented decision which the American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego today said could have severe consequences for thousands of children adopted by the same sex partners of their lesbian and gay parents.

The case, Sharon S. v. Superior Court, involved a dispute over the validity of second-parent adoption, the only procedure by which both members of a same-sex or other unmarried couple can become the legal parents of their children. In a decision that is sending shock waves throughout the state, the court appeared to call into question the legitimacy of these longstanding adoptions.

“Never before has a court anywhere in the country purported to cast into doubt the validity of thousands of finalized adoption decrees,” said Kate Kendell, Executive Director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights in San Francisco.

Over the past 15 years, trial courts across the state have routinely granted thousands of second-parent adoptions, and thousands of California families now rely on these adoption decrees to provide health insurance, Social Security, pension and inheritance rights, and other crucial benefits for their children.

In spite of this settled practice, the San Diego court ignored two basic principles of California family law: that adoption statutes must be interpreted in light of the best interest of children, and that there is strong public policy favoring the finality of adoption decrees.

The appeals court dismissed these principles by saying that trial courts never had the authority to grant second-parent adoptions, and that those families affected could apply for new adoptions under AB 25, California’s new domestic partnership law, which goes into effect in January 2002.

“What about families who have moved out of state and can’t qualify for a California domestic partnership?”” said Jordan Budd, Managing Attorney for the ACLU of San Diego. “”What about families where the birth parent has died–which would leave the child a legal orphan if the adoption is invalid? What about children who rely on an adoptive parent’s health insurance policy? This decision, if its effects aren’t restricted or overturned, is going to cause chaos for many families.”

Civil rights groups expect the California Supreme Court to review the case and are also analyzing other strategies to minimize the harmful effects of the decision.

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