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Mississippi Adoption Ban Struck Down

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A federal judge today struck down Mississippi’s ban on adoption by same-sex couples, saying it “violates the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution.”

U.S. District Court Judge Daniel P. Jordan III ruled that the Mississippi Department of Human Services can no longer enforce the ban, enacted in 2000, the Associated Press reports.

Mississippi was the last U.S. state to have such a ban, according to a press release from the Family Equality Council and the Campaign for Southern Equality, which joined four same-sex couples in the lawsuit against the ban. Roberta Kaplan was lead counsel for the plaintiffs; she is the attorney who won Windsor v. U.S., the 2013 Supreme Court decision that brought down the main portion of the Defense of Marriage Act. She also represented Mississippi couples challenging the state’s same-sex marriage prohibition.

In his ruling, Jordan cited another Supreme Court decision, last year’s marriage equality ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges. “In sum,” he wrote, “the majority opinion foreclosed litigation over laws interfering with the right to marry and ‘rights and responsibilities intertwined with marriage.’ … It also seems highly unlikely that the same court that held a state cannot ban gay marriage because it would deny benefits — expressly including the right to adopt — would then conclude that married gay couples can be denied that very same benefit.” Because the Supreme Court sets the law of the land and lower courts are obligated to follow it, Jordan wrote, he had to conclude that the ban is unconstitutional.

“We are obviously thrilled with today’s ruling, but our clients are beyond ecstatic,” Kaplan said in the press release. “And that is exactly as it should be. Two sets of our clients have waited many (almost 9 and 16) years to become legal parents to the children they have loved and cared for since birth.  We hope that it should finally be clear that discrimination against gay people simply because they are gay violates the Constitution in all 50 states, including Mississippi.”

Those two sets of clients were seeking second-parent adoptions, which, like other types of adoption, were not available to same-sex couples under the ban. Kathryn Garner and Susan Hrostowski, for instance, have been raising a son together for 16 years, but as the birth mother, Garner was his only legal parent. Now Hrostowski can be recognized as a legal parent as well.

“We are so overwhelmed with joy,” Hrostowski said in the same press release. “Our son just turned 16 on Easter Sunday and is going to get his driver’s license tomorrow. ... For us, the feeling and the way we have operated as a family have never been impacted by this law. But to have this ruling and to be able to start the adoption proceedings tomorrow means everything to me. There is no greater joy on this planet than to have him as my son and for the world to understand, appreciate, and affirm that he is my son. It means everything.”

The AP sought comment from Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, but he did not respond immediately.

The ruling comes as the state is on the verge of enacting a law that would that would give businesses, individuals, nonprofits, and even government employees wide latitude to discriminate against LGBT people, without penalty, by citing religious or moral objections. The state Senate approved the bill Wednesday and today sent it back to the House, which had passed a slightly different version in February. If the House concurs with the Senate version, in a vote expected next week, the bill will go to Gov. Phil Bryant for his signature or veto. Bryant has not said what action he will take, but he has made supportive comments about the bill’s intent.

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