On October 9, 2007, a same-sex couple residing in San Diego, California, with their adopted child who was born in Louisiana, filed this lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the State of Louisiana. The plaintiffs had asked Louisiana to issue a new original birth certificate identifying plaintiffs as the child's legal parents, but the state refused to do so. The plaintiffs, represented by Lambda Legal and private counsel, asked the court for declaratory relief finding Louisiana's actions in violation of the Constitution; for an injunction requiring Louisiana to issue the new birth certificate; and for reasonable attorneys' fees. Plaintiffs amended the complaint on June 30, 2008.
Plaintiffs had adopted their child, who was born in Shreveport, Louisiana, in New York in 2006. Louisiana rejected their request for an amended birth certificate identifying both of them as the child's legal parents relying on its own law, public policy, and an advisory opinion from the Louisiana Attorney General's Office; the state concluded that it was not required to recognize an out-of-state adoption decree that violates Louisiana public policy. In particular, the state contended that it did not need to recognize out-of-state adoption decrees that name two unmarried persons as the adoptive parents because, in Louisiana, only married parents could jointly adopt a child.
Plaintiffs countered that adoption orders by a New York state court are judgments that must be given full faith and credit under the Constitution by every other state. Furthermore, plaintiffs claimed that the State of Louisiana violated their rights under the Equal Protection Clause because the state denied the legal benefit of an accurate birth certificate to a subset of children who are adopted by unmarried same-sex couples.
On December 22, 2008, the District Court (Judge Jay C. Zainey) granted plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment; the court found that the Louisiana statute in question authorizes the state registrar to issue a new birth record upon receipt of a valid out-of-state adoption decree and is entitled to full faith and credit. Thus, the court ordered the state to issue an amended birth certificate identifying the plaintiffs as the child's parents. On January 15, 2009, the state sought a new trial in the district court and, six days later, also filed an appeal in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.
On March 18, 2009, the District Court denied the state's motion for a new trial and granted the plaintiffs' motion to enforce the judgment; Judge Zainey ordered that the Louisiana State Registrar issue a completed birth certificate reflecting the names of the adoptive parents in accordance with the Court's judgment. However, on March 27, 2009, the Fifth Circuit ordered that the judgment be stayed pending resolution of defendant's appeal in that Court.
On February 18, 2010, a Fifth Circuit panel held that Louisiana law, properly understood, required defendant to reissue the birth certificate with both parents' names listed. Adar v. Smith, 597 F.3d 697 (5th Cir. 2010). However, that opinion was vacated by the Court's decision to rehear the case en banc. Adar v. Smith, 622 F.3d 426 (5th Cir. 2010).
On April 12, 2011, the en banc Fifth Circuit reversed and remanded the case for dismissal. Adar v. Smith, 639 F.3d 146 (5th Cir. 2011). The court found that Louisiana did not violate the full faith and credit clause by determining how to apply its own laws to maintain its vital statistics records, and that no right created by the New York adoption order had been denied. As to the Equal Protection claim, the court found that Louisiana's preference for stable adoptive families provides a rational basis for its decision to have its birth certificate requirements flow from its domestic adoption law (requiring that any parents wishing to jointly adopt be married). The costs on appeal were awarded to defendant as well.
On May 20, 2011, on remand, the District Court Judge Zainey entered judgment in favor of defendant and dismissed plaintiffs' complaint. On October 19, 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court denied certiorari.Alex Wharton - 10/13/2014