The Supreme Court of Alabama on Friday overturned a lower court ruling that had recognized the 2007 adoption of three children in Georgia by one partner in a lesbian couple that has since split up.
The couple, who live and work in Alabama, had taken up official residence in Georgia to take advantage of its adoption laws.
After breaking up in 2011, one woman in the relationship, referred to as V.L., filed a petition in Alabama in 2013 saying she was being denied parental rights by her former partner, referred to as E.L., the biological mother of the children.
In a seven-to-one decision, the court said "the Georgia court was not empowered to enter the Georgia judgment declaring V.L. to be an adoptive parent of the children. ... The Georgia judgment is accordingly void, and the full faith and credit clause does not require the courts of Alabama to recognize that judgment."
The U.S. Constitution's full faith and credit clause says each state must respect the "public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other state."
"What is so distressing about the opinion is for a second state to do this and void an eight-year-old adoption because it doesn't agree with the interpretation of the law of the original state. That is a terrifying prospect for all adoptive families, especially for same-sex parents," said V.L.'s lawyer, Cathy Sakimura.
Sakimura, the family law director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights in San Francisco, said the next possible step is to seek a U.S. Supreme Court review.
The lawyer for E.L., Randall Nichols, said via email that his client was pleased with the decision but regards it as a private family matter.
Signing onto the majority opinion was Chief Justice Roy Moore, who in an unrelated 2002 gay parenting case wrote that "common law designates homosexuality as an inherent evil" and renders that person an "unfit parent."
Moore earlier this year ordered the state's probate judges not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples even after the U.S. Supreme Court in June ruled gay marriage legal in all 50 states.
"I think Roy Moore is virulently anti-gay," said Scott McCoy, staff attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center.
"The majority bent over backwards and went through legal gymnastics to not recognize the Georgia adoption decree where this couple agreed the children would be raised jointly and parent them together."