Success for Gay Parents in Second-Parent Adoption Case

SAN DIEGO – After six years of anxious waiting and years of litigation in the case Sharon S. v. Superior Court, mom “Annette F.” finally witnessed the official certification of her adoption of Joshua before a San Diego Superior Court judge. The case, which went all the way to the California Supreme Court, resulted in a formal adoption ceremony on June 9, 2006, after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to reopen the substance of the case on May 22, 2006.

Annette was in the process of adopting the child of her partner, Sharon, when their relationship ended. Annette, who served equally as a mother to Joshua, continued to press on with the adoption proceedings. Sharon attacked the validity of second parent adoption, the theory upon which more than 10,000 gay and lesbian families have adopted children. San Diego attorney and ACLU Past President Charles A. Bird represented Annette, and the ACLU Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties’ then Legal Director Jordan Budd took a lead role in getting organizations to weigh in with supportive legal briefs as amicus curiae (friends of the court). In 2003, Annette prevailed with a 6-1 decision in the California Supreme Court validating second parent adoption.

After the California Supreme Court decision, Annette F. continued to prevail in trials and appeals on the factual issues of whether Sharon S. had given valid consent to adoption and whether that adoption was in Joshua’s best interest. In the meantime, the decision in Sharon S. v. Superior Court was one of the chief authorities supporting the rationale of a 2005 case known as In re Elisa B, which held that “parent” in the Uniform Parentage Act is gender-neutral. As a result, a member of a same-sex couple will be recognized directly as legal parent of a partner’s child if both partners participated in planning for and supporting the child.

Sharon petitioned the United States Supreme Court to review the last court ruling and hoped the Court would conduct a substantial review of the 2003 decision as well. However, the petition for certiorari was denied on May 22, 2006.

For gay parents, adoptive parents–and for everyone committed to equal rights–the resolution of this case is cause for celebration. As adoptive parents everywhere can appreciate, Annette cannot contain her joy of being Joshua’s “official” mother as of the June 9 formal adoption proceeding.

The case is now before the California Supreme Court on a separate, but also urgently important matter–whether an attorney can collect fees for the public benefit his or her work conferred even though the client had a substantial non-financial interest in the outcome. The ACLU has joined an amicus brief supporting fee awards in such cases, without which individuals are less likely to see their rights vindicated.

This year marks 70 years of ACLU work on behalf of LGBT rights and 20 years since the founding of our national LGBT Rights & AIDS Project.