Supreme Court made Alabama recognize lesbian adoption in Georgia

A Georgia court entered a final judgment of adoption making petitioner V. L., a legal parent of the children that she and E. L. had raised together from birth. The lesbian couple later separated while living in Alabama. V. L. sought enforcement of the Georgia court in Alabama to grant her custody or visitation rights. V.L. v. E.L., 136 S. Ct. 1017 (March 7, 2016).

The Alabama Supreme Court ruled against her, reasoning that the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the United States Constitution does not require the Alabama courts to respect the Georgia judgment. The Alabama Supreme Court relied on Ga. Code Ann. §19-8-5(a), stating that “a child who has any living parent or guardian may be adopted by a third party . . . only if each such living parent and each such guardian has voluntarily and in writing surrendered all of his or her rights to such child.” The Alabama Supreme Court concluded that this provision prohibited the Georgia Superior Court from allowing V. L. to adopt the children while also allowing E. L. to keep her existing parental rights. A further conclusion mentioned that the provision concentrated on the Georgia court’s subject-matter jurisdiction and not to the merits. In ruling so, the Alabama Supreme Court seemed to have relied solely on the fact that the right to adoption under Georgia law was purely statutory, and “‘[t]he requirements of Georgia’s adoptions statutes are mandatory and [be] strictly construed in favor of the natural parents.’”

The Supreme Court reversed. It laid down that the clause requires each State to recognize and give effect to valid judgments rendered by the courts of its sister states. It serves “to alter the status of the several states as independent foreign sovereignties, each free to ignore obligations created under the laws or by the judicial proceedings of the others, and to make them integral parts of a single nation.”

Moreover, under Georgia law, “[t]he superior courts of the several counties shall have exclusive jurisdiction in all matters of adoption.” Ga. Code Ann. §19-8-2(a). That provision on its face gave the Georgia Superior Court subject-matter jurisdiction to hear and decide the adoption petition. The Superior Court resolved that matter by entering a final judgment that made V. L. the legal adoptive parent of the children. Whatever the merits of that judgment, it was within the statutory grant of jurisdiction over “all matters of adoption.”

The Supreme Court further clarified that Section 19-8-5(a) does not become jurisdictional solely because it is “mandatory” and “must be strictly construed,” and has on numerous occasions rejected this notion. 

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