Just eight days after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that gays could adopt the children of their same-sex partners, the Ohio Supreme Court declared on Aug. 28 that two lesbians could not become parents of each other’s children on the grounds that Ohio law bars “second parent” adoptions.
The Ohio court issued its ruling on adoptions by same-sex partners despite the fact that the two women, who have been a couple for 14 years, had asked only that the state Supreme Court overturn a lower court ruling that denied their request for joint custody over each other’s children. On that issue, the court rejected the lower court’s claim that state law did not allow joint custody and ordered the lower court to reconsider the joint custody request on its merits.
An official with the National Center for Lesbian Rights said the rulings in Pennsylvania and Ohio were examples of how a patchwork of differing laws and court decisions exist in the United States regarding adoption and child custody rights for gays and lesbians.
But the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest gay political group, has released a comprehensive survey of state custody and visitation laws and court decisions that shows a trend toward “fairness” for same-sex couples.
“We found that many states are taking important steps toward equality in their laws affecting [lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender] custody and visitation rights,” said Lisa Bennett, director of HRC’s FamilyNet project.
The HRC survey shows that 21 states and the District of Columbia have “good records” in custody and visitation disputes involving same-sex parents. According to the survey, which HRC has published on its Web site, these states and the District of Columbia “generally do not discriminate based on the sexual orientation of the parents.”
The survey shows that nine states have poor records in granting custody and visitation rights to gays, with Alabama, North Carolina and Utah having the worst records. The remaining states have mixed or unclear records.
“The trend is going in the right direction,” Bennett said. “But that is a small consolation for parents and children who in some states continue to be torn apart by the heartlessness of prejudice.”
Shannon Mintor, legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said the center considers the Ohio decision to be “a very significant victory” for the lesbian couple and for gay rights in general, despite the fact that the court ruled against joint adoption.
Mintor said the custody ruling would overturn negative decisions handed down by lower courts throughout Ohio in joint custody cases for same-sex couples. She added that attorneys plan to ask the court to delete the adoption ruling from its published opinion on grounds that the court had not reviewed a detailed brief on that question.