In Congress and the courts, supporters of gay rights are attacking the Defense of Marriage Act, which among other things allows states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. But there is no law that gives states a similar ability to reject another state's adoption.
That's why we're puzzled by a ruling issued last week by the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which held that Louisiana rightly refused to issue a birth certificate including both names of a gay couple who adopted a child.
The two men adopted their son, who was born in Louisiana, through an agency in New York. Louisiana law requires state officials to issue a new birth certificate for an adopted child that "shall list the names of the adoptive parents." But Louisiana also prohibits adoptions by unmarried couples, whether heterosexual or homosexual. So the state declined to issue a birth certificate with both names.
A federal District Court judge had ruled in the couple's favor, but the appeals court disagreed. In the majority opinion, Chief Judge Edith Jones wrote that Louisiana had a "rational preference for stable families." But that argument is undercut by the fact that the state allows adoptions by single adults — just not unmarried couples.
The court also decided that the state could legally "recognize" the adoption by simply listing one parent's name. But a valid and complete birth certificate is a standard and necessary part of adoption; refusal to issue one to an adoptive family is an obvious rejection of their status. It has practical implications as well — for example, when a parent who isn't listed on the birth certificate wants to enroll the child in a school that requires the document, or to obtain a passport for the child.
More than anything, the case demonstrates the necessity of establishing full same-sex marriage rights. Many gay and lesbian couples form the kind of "stable families" to which Jones referred. In California, married or unmarried, such couples have been particularly willing to adopt hard-to-place children, providing youngsters who might otherwise be wards of the court with permanent, loving families. It is not a lack of willingness to form a lifelong commitment that keeps many such couples from marrying; it is the dogged refusal of most states, including this one, to allow them to do so.