By Emily Hecht-McGowan, Director of Public Policy, Family Equality Council
In a stunning reversal of both the district and appellate court rulings in Adar v Smith, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit sitting en banc found that the refusal of the Louisiana state registrar to issue an amended birth certificate to a child adopted by a gay couple did not violate the Full Faith and Credit clause of the U.S. Constitution.
Parents Oren Adar and Mickey Smith’s (no relation to the state registrar also named Smith) child was born in Louisiana and adopted jointly by the two men in New York. Although Louisiana state law requires the registrar to issue a new birth certificate upon receipt of a valid adoption decree, the registrar refused to do so in this case on the ground that Louisiana state law prohibits adoption by unmarried couples. Adar and Smith sued under both the Full Faith and Credit Clause and the Equal Protection Clause. The federal district court agreed with plaintiffs’ Full Faith and Credit argument, and ordered the registrar to issue a new birth certificate identifying both men as the child’s parents. A panel of the 5th Circuit affirmed. Louisiana then sought en banc review by the full 5th Circuit, and in a divided decision with a vigorous dissent written by Judge Weiner, the en banc Court reversed and ordered that Adar and Smith’s complaint be dismissed.
With respect to plaintiffs’ Full Faith and Credit claim, the Court noted that the state “is bound by the New York adoption decree, such that the parental relationship of Adar and Smith with Infant J cannot be re-litigated in Louisiana.” The Court nevertheless concluded that Louisiana’s failure to issue a new birth certificate reflecting that adoption did not deny recognition of the New York adoption. Although the Court emphasized that the adoption’s validity could not be contested in a Louisiana court, same-sex couples who jointly adopt children born in Louisiana will find these statements of very little comfort in light of the practical effects of this decision. Specifically, by permitting the state registrar to refuse to issue a new birth certificate on the ground that the adoption decree entered by N.Y. would not have been permissible under Louisiana law, the Court has essentially given permission for any entity other than a court to refuse recognition of any out-of-state adoption decree for any purpose. There is no legitimate state interest in refusing to issue a birth certificate that accurately reflects the established legal relationship between a child and the child’s parents. The clear objective here is to attempt to delegitimize an adoption by a gay couple and to stigmatize an innocent child.