Supreme Court Reverses Decision Denying Same Sex Adoption

Alabama’s highest court refused to accept a Georgia court’s ruling granting this same sex couple adoption rights over the three children. The couple is identified as E.L. and V.L. in the court cases.

The Supreme Court held that a state cannot refuse to give full faith and credit to another state’s ruling just because the state disagrees with “the reasoning underlying the judgment or deems it to be wrong on the merits”.

This case reiterates the importance of maintaining the familial relationships intact and providing consistency for the children. A child should not be without their parent because a state disagrees with the law applied to legally establish that parental relationship.
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This case directly affects same sex couples who have adopted and are relocating to Alabama, but it is sending a message to all states that currently deny same sex adoptions.

Florida allows same sex adoptions by statute for married same sex couples and also for unmarried adults, so, although this case may not affect things in this state, it opens up the path for couples adopting in Florida to move freely without the fear of having their rights taken away.

Read more on the story here.

Same Sex Marriage and Gestational Surrogacy in Florida

There has been much speculation regarding what exactly will happen to the gestational surrogacy process now that the ban on same sex marriage has been lifted.  As of January 6th, 2015, same sex couples can get married and the Florida clerks can issue marriage certificates. Past conversations with counsel for Vital Statistics revealed that as same sex marriages are not recognized in Florida, they are estopped from seeking parentage through an Affirmation of Parental Status.  The response then to this bar would require termination of the surrogate from the parent child relationship in favor of the biological Intended Parent and adding the second Intended Parent via a second parent adoption.  Thus, the couple was paying for two separate legal proceedings as well as home study, and with a significant time gap between the birth of the child and the finalization of parentage.

SS FlagFlorida’s marriage statute, 741.212(3) states that, “… the term “marriage” means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the term “spouse” applies only to a member of such a union.”  Earlier this month, U.S. Federal Judge Robert L. Hinkle released a statement clarifying his decision finding the state’s ban unconstitutional. To clarify whether all jurisdictions should follow suit, Judge Hinkle wrote, “Reasonable people can debate whether the ruling in this case was correct and who it binds… There should be no debate however, on the question whether a clerk of court may follow the ruling, even for marriage-license applicants who are not parties to this case.” This statement by Judge Hinkle makes it clear that all clerks are and should follow the ruling and that if they don’t they would be inviting a lawsuit.

The Florida gestational surrogacy statute says a Commissioning Couple can partake in a surrogacy.  The statute at Section 742.15(1) states, “A contract for gestational surrogacy shall not be binding and enforceable unless … the commissioning couple are legally married …”

Judge Hinkle’s decision arguably impacts the Surrogacy Statutes by now including married, same sex couples into the group of persons who obtain parentage through an affirmation.  Our firm has spoken to the Office of Vital Statistics and they will accept an Order Affirming Parental Status and issue birth certificates with both parents’ names.  We also spoke to the Orange County judges to confirm their understanding of the effect of Judge Hinkle’s ruling upon surrogacy. The judges we spoke with will sign affirmation of parentage orders for married same sex couples following a gestational surrogacy so long as all of the statutory requirements are met. This confirms that, although discretionary, married same sex couples can rely upon the Florida gestational surrogacy statutes with the same confidence as married, heterosexual couples.

We will report back on other Counties and any feedback as it becomes available.

Is Florida Next to Allow Same Sex Marriage?

The 3rd District Court of Appeals will be making a decision regarding the ban on same sex marriage in Florida before the case goes to the Florida Supreme Court.

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This action is a result of rulings in both Monroe and Miami-Dade County where judges struck down the ban on same sex marriage. However, couples cannot yet get married due to a stay which was put in place with the efforts of Pam Bondi. This stay was put in place to keep the ban on same sex marriage in effect until the 3rd District Court of Appeals hears the case and makes a decision.

The ACLU, as well as some other attorneys, has sued to overturn this stay and allow the couples to marry. The ACLU asked the stay be lifted earlier this month. ACLU acted one day after the US Supreme Court ruled that they would not hear appeals in federal court decisions allowing same-sex marriages for Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia, Indiana, & Wisconsin.

Around the same time this month, five more states- Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, North Carolina, West Virginia, & Wyoming- legalized same sex marriage bringing the total to 32 states. Now the next question is whether Florida is next.

Attorney General Holder Tells State Attorneys General they do NOT have to Defend their State’s Ban on Same Sex Marriage

Monday night, Attorney General Eric Holder declared in an interview that State Attorneys General can refuse to defend same sex marriage bans upon a careful review of the law and application of strict scrutiny. Holder sees the issue as a constitutional one and compared it to Brown v. Board of Education, the 1954 case which integrated public schools. (See the article here.)

Although his statements do not directly impact state laws which currently ban same sex marriage, supporters see this as a bold declaration which signifies one more step towards marriage equality. Some State Attorneys General have already taken this stance and have openly refused to defend bans on same sex marriage. One of these is State Attorney General Mark Herring, who decided not to defend Virginia’s ban on same sex marriage in court. A group is now trying to get Attorney General Herring impeached.  (See article here.)

The efforts against Herring, mirror the opinion of several opponents to Holder’s comments on Monday, who believe that State Attorneys General must defend the laws of their state despite their personal opinion. On the other hand, would cases like Brown v. Board of Education have turned out the way they did if State Attorneys General defended their laws regardless of what they were? Or is the ultimate objective to defend the states’ constitutions no matter what they represent?

Author’s Note: Today, Wednesday 2/26/14, a Texas federal judge struck down Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage despite opposition from Texas’ Attorney General. (See article here)