Metro Weekly

Mississippi adoption ban challenged in federal court

Plaintiffs seek to strike down last remaining state ban on same-sex couples adopting children

U.S. Courthouse in Natchez, Miss. for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi (Credit: General Services Administration, via Wikimedia Commons).
U.S. Courthouse in Natchez, Miss. for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi (Credit: General Services Administration, via Wikimedia Commons).

Four same-sex couples are alleging that Mississippi’s ban prohibiting same-sex couples from adopting is unconstitutional.

Two LGBT advocacy groups — the Campaign for Southern Equality and the Family Equality Council — filed a lawsuit against the Mississippi Department of Human Services on Wednesday. The plaintiffs include two lesbian couples who wish to adopt children and two others who already have children but are currently prohibited from initiating a second-parent adoption.

The lead counsel for the plaintiffs is Roberta Kaplan, the lawyer who represented Edith Windsor in the landmark case U.S. v. Windsor, which struck down Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Also representing the plaintiffs is Robert McDuff of McDuff & Byrd, the law firm that filed the case that eventually ruled that Mississippi’s statewide ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.

The lawsuit seeks to both overturn the ban on same-sex adoption and to compel the Department of Human Services and licensed adoption agencies to conduct a home study, something required before a child can be adopted by a prospective parent or family.

According to the lawsuit, the state’s current adoption ban for same-sex couples “writes inequality into Mississippi law by requiring that married gay and lesbian couples be treated differently than all other married couples in Mississippi. As a consequence, the equal dignity of hundreds of families and thousands of children in Mississippi is disrespected and the significant and concrete rights, benefits, and duties that come with legal parentage are denied.”

The lawsuit also argues that the ban is an “outdated relic” of a time when anti-LGBT discrimination was condoned. But because of recent decisions in both the Windsor case and Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized marriage equality nationwide, the plaintiffs argue that discriminating against prospective parents because of their sexual orientation is unconstitutional.

“Mississippi’s ban on adoption by gay and lesbian couples blatantly discriminates against loving families, unfairly harms innocent children, and plainly cannot be reconciled with the constitutional guarantees of due process and equal protection as recently interpreted by the Supreme Court,” Kaplan said in a statement.

According to data from the 2010 Census, 29 percent of the 3,484 same-sex couples currently living in Mississippi are raising children together. As of 2014, the Williams Institute at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) School of Law, which studies LGBT demographic trends, estimated that 996 same-sex couples were raising 1,401 children who would be affected by lifting the adoption ban. According to the Campaign for Southern Equality, an estimated 100 children in Mississippi are in foster care and eligible for adoption, but have not been matched with parents who can adopt them as of yet.

“The best interest of children must always be at the heart of family law,” Gabriel Blau, executive director of the Family Equality Council, said in a statement upon filing the lawsuit. “Mississippi’s statute disregards what is best for children, families, and America. This blatant discrimination hurts our families and treats them like second-class citizens. Mississippi has the highest rate of same-sex couples raising children in the country. All families — no matter in which state they make their home — deserve to be treated equally, and all children deserve to be protected by legal relationships with their parents.”

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