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American Bar Association

ABA Section of Litigation
Children's Rights Litigation

Case Notes


Finstuen v. Edmondson

Case No. CIV-04-1152-C (W.D. Okla. May 19, 2006)

A two-year-old Oklahoma law recognizing the legality of all adoptions finalized in other jurisdictions, except for those involving adoptive parents of the same sex, was recently determined to be unconstitutional. The challenged statute was amended in 2004 to include the following provision:

Except that, this state, any of its agencies, or any court of this state shall not recognize an adoption by more than one individual of the same sex from any other state or foreign jurisdiction.

The United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma invalidated the statute on numerous grounds. First, the court held that because the parent/child relationship was established by another jurisdiction and required no action or inaction by Oklahoma officials, the statute violated the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the United States Constitution. Second, the court determined that the statute violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution. Noting that both the plaintiffs and the defendants misunderstood the relevant Equal Protection analysis, the court determined that “the effect of the Amendment is to refuse legal recognition of certain parent-child relationships that have been legally formed in a different state,” regardless of the adoptive parents’ sexual orientation. Analogizing the statute to statutes discriminating against illegitimate children, the court concluded that the statute promoted no substantial government interest by stripping children of legal rights that were created by their adoption. The statute also ran afoul of the Equal Protection Clause because its effect on the adult parents was to close access to government. Finally, the court struck the statute under substantive due process analysis because it terminated the parent/child relationship without considerations of parental fitness and the best interests of the children.

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