Published: May 5, 2004
A federal district court judge in San Francisco ruled Monday that a lawsuit against Adoption.com can proceed, based on arguments the Internet-based adoption service discriminated against Rich and Michael Butler, a same-sex couple from San Jose, Calif.
Meanwhile, an appeals court in Washington state ruled a nonbiological mother should be given visitation rights with her daughter after the mother's relationship with the biological mother ended.
Adoption.com permits prospective adoptive parents to post their personal profiles in hopes of connecting with potential birth mothers. The site will not, however, permit same-sex couples to post their profiles. In 2002, Adoption.com refused to accept the Butlers' application.
Adoption.com is the largest adoption-related Internet business in the United States.
The Butlers filed a lawsuit challenging the policy under California law, which prohibits businesses from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation. On Monday, federal district court judge Phyllis Hamilton ruled the lawsuit can proceed to trial.
"We are relieved that we will have a chance to hold Adoption.com accountable for violating California law by discriminating against gay and lesbian couples," read a statement from Rich Butler. "Same-sex couples are just as capable of providing good homes for children as different-sex couples."
The Butlers are represented by the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the law firm of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP.
"We're thrilled that this judgment was made in favor of recognizing [GLBT] families, especially adoptive families," said Beth Teper, executive director of Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere (COLAGE), an advocacy group for children of GLBT parents.
Teper told the PlanetOut Network she hopes other adoption agencies will take this as a strong message and think twice about discriminating against GLBT prospective parents.
In the Washington case, plaintiff Sue Ellen Carvin won visitation rights to see her daughter, even though she is not the biological mother. Carvin lived with her former partner for 12 years. During that time they decided to have a child together, with her partner giving birth to their daughter, and Carvin staying at home to serve as the primary caregiver.
When the child was almost six years old, the couple separated. Her ex-partner eventually cut off all contact between Carvin and the child.
Teper praised the ruling in Carvin's favor, noting that COLAGE had filed an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief on her behalf.
"Children have a legal right to a relationship with whichever adults have planned their birth and intended to raise them," she said.
Other states that have recognized visitation rights for nonbiological parents in same-sex relationships include Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Wisconsin.