The Indiana Court of Appeals just issued a decision in a doozy of a case involving two lesbian mothers, the daughter they adopted, a judge who tried to subvert the adoption. Here's the background, courtesy of the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, which represented the family together with Indianapolis lawyer Barbara Baird.
Becki Hamilton and Kim Brennan had served as foster parents for several children. In 2004, they were asked by the State of Indiana to foster an abandoned baby and to consider adopting her. Hamilton and Brennan agreed immediately and brought the child home when she was two days old.
When Morgan County Circuit Judge Matthew Hanson, who was supervising the baby's foster care placement realized that she had been placed with an unmarried couple, he ordered the Office of Family and Children to find a married couple to adopt her instead.
In a bid to keep the child Hamilton and Brennan had come to think of as their daughter, they turned to neighboring Marion County. Superior Court Judge Charles Dieter found the adoption to be in the child's best interest and granted it.
Hamilton and Brennan then returned to the Morgan County court and petitioned for their daughter to be released from her status as a ward of the state. Judge Hanson refused and ruled that the adoption decree was invalid, because Indiana Law does not permit unmarried couples to jointly adopt a child. He ordered that the child be removed from Hamilton and Brennan's care and placed in the custody of another couple.
Hamilton and Brennan immediately appealed to the Indiana Court of Appeals. (Fortunately, they were permitted to retain custody of their daughter during the appeals process.) They argued that the adoption was in the best interest of their daughter, and that the Morgan County court had no authority to invalidate an adoption decree issued by a Marion County court. The Indiana Department of Child Services simultaneously appealed the Marion County court's ruling, arguing that unmarried couples may not adopt jointly, although they may adopt as single parents. (In other words, it would have been okay had only one of the women filed for adoption.)
Enter the Indiana Court of Appeals. By a 2-1 vote, the court ruled that the Marion County court got it right--that unmarried couples can adopt jointly when it's in the best interest of the child. It also ruled that the Morgan County court had no authority to invalidate a ruling by a Marion County court.
So after over a year of litigation, Hamilton, Brennan, and their daughter can rest quietly, at least for the moment. They've always been a family--but now the law recognizes it.