In March, a federal judge ruled that Mississippi’s holdout ban on same-sex couples’ adoptions was unconstitutional, making same-sex adoption legal in all 50 states.
This ruling, like many court decisions involving same-sex couples’ rights, strains the relationship between state and federal law. Although states are obviously required to follow federal law, federal mandates cannot always stop states from enacting laws and policies that frustrate the purpose of higher court rulings.
Like Mississippi, Arizona has had more than its fair share of same-sex couple adoption controversy. In October 2014, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Arizona’s law limiting a marriage to only a man and a woman (before the U.S. Supreme Court declared the same result nationally). From November 2014 to February 2015, the state issued same-sex joint adoption licenses, but halted the practice when the Department of Child Safety refused to continue issuing joint adoptions to same-sex married couples in derogation of state law. In April 2015, Governor Doug Ducey issued a public statement that same-sex adoption was in fact legal, and that DCS was required to give same-sex couples licenses.
Still, many hurdles face same-sex couples who seek to adopt, or who adopted before Arizona was forced to recognize the validity of their marriages. An unknown, but substantial, number of couples were not permitted to jointly adopt, leaving parents and families confused as to their legal statuses. For example, if a couple was married before October 2014 and adopted children, but they were not allowed to jointly adopt, what legal rights might the second (non-adoptive) parent have? These kinds of issues are already before the courts in Arizona and will need to be resolved in this and many other states while the legal landscape adjusts to the new normal.
With that in mind, and although there remain numerous challenges for same-sex adoptive couples to overcome, 2016 marks the first year in which all 50 states now grant adoptions to same-sex couples, giving thousands of children an opportunity that they did not have a year ago: the chance to be adopted by a loving family.