The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday overturned an Alabama judicial ruling that had refused to recognize a gay woman's parental rights over three children she adopted with her lesbian partner and raised from birth.
The court took the relatively unusual step of reversing the Alabama Supreme Court without hearing oral arguments in the case. Cases are decided in that fashion when a lower court ruling is considered to be particularly counter to Supreme Court precedents. None of the eight justices dissented.
The adoptive mother, identified in court papers as V.L, said she was overjoyed with the ruling.
"When the Alabama court said my adoption was invalid and I wasn't their mother, I didn't think I could go on. The Supreme Court has done what's right for my family," she said in a statement.
The court said in an unsigned opinion that the Alabama court was required to recognize the woman's parental rights because they had been legally endorsed by a court in Georgia.
The ruling said the Alabama court's interpretation of the law was "not consistent" with prior Supreme Court decisions. Under the U.S. Constitution, state courts are required to recognize judgments issued by courts in other states.
The Alabama Supreme Court, led by outspoken conservative Chief Justice Roy Moore, has a history of hostility to gay rights. For example, it dragged its feet in implementing the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark ruling last June legalizing gay marriage nationwide.
The Supreme Court had already intervened in the case once before. In December, the court ordered that the Alabama ruling be put on hold while the woman filed a formal appeal of Alabama Supreme Court's September ruling.
Lawyers for the woman say the Alabama ruling had "effectively stripped V.L. of parental rights over the children she had raised since they were born."
V.L. was formerly in a relationship with a woman identified as E.L., who is the birth mother of the three children, a 13-year-old and 11-year-old twins.
In 2007, a court in Georgia granted V.L.'s petition to adopt the children in a move that E.L. agreed to at the time. The couple split in 2011 and disagreed over custody arrangements.
V.L. filed papers in Alabama seeking joint custody. Lower courts ruled in her favor before the state's high court ruled in favor of her former partner.
The state appeals court said it did not have to endorse the Georgia court's adoption order. But the Alabama Supreme Court said that the Georgia court did not have jurisdiction to issue the adoption order.
The two women were not married.