The Supreme Court’s decision in V.L. v. E.L. (March 7, 2016) dealt with children born to one lesbian mother (E.L.) and then adopted by her lesbian partner (V.L.) with whom she had been in a long-term committed relationship. V.L. and E.L. jointly parented their children for a number of years until separating in 2011. Upon separating, E.L. challenged V.L.’s parental rights. The Alabama Supreme Court ruled against the adoptive mother, holding that the Alabama Court was not required to recognize the Georgia adoption. The Supreme Court’s ruling preserved the adoptive mother’s legal relationship with her children, however, overruling the Alabama Supreme Court decision.
The legal basis for the opinion is fairly technical, having to do with requiring states to give “full faith and credit” to orders, including adoption orders, issued by the courts of other states.
But two other aspects of the decision are worthy of attention.
First, it is perhaps a measure of how mainstream gay and lesbian legal issues have become that the Supreme Court has now dealt with two cases involving gay and lesbian rights within a relatively short period of time – the other being the Court’s decision in June of 2015 recognizing the constitutional right to marry of same-sex couples.
Second, the ruling is noteworthy for the importance it places on preserving parent-child relationships. This follows a general trend over the past 20 years or so in which, for example, joint custody arrangements are favored which ensures that the children of divorce and separated parents have strong relationships with both parents even though the adult relationship is dissolved. In addition, courts across the U.S. are increasingly honoring the bond which a “psychological parent,” such as a step-parent or care-taking grandparent builds with a child, without having the same legal status that a mother or father has.
When our highest Court issues an opinion supporting the parental rights of an adoptive mother, it sends a message about the importance to our society of that parent-child relationship.