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NCLR applauds California ruling recognizing same-sex parent of adopted children as a legal parent

SAN FRANCISCO — The National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) applauds the California Court of Appeal decision confirming that when a same-sex couple raises a child together who was legally adopted by only one of the partners, both parents should be recognized under California law. NCLR submitted an amicus brief to the Court of Appeal in the case supporting recognition of both parents.

The case was brought by a woman, known as S.Y., who raised two children with her former same-sex partner. The children were legally adopted only by S.Y.’s partner, S.B. S.Y. did not adopt the children, primarily because she was in the military and could have been discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” if the military learned about her family.

The Court of Appeal, applying longstanding California law, ruled last week that S.Y. should be recognized as a legal parent to both children, even though she had not legally adopted them, because she had acted as a parent and “held the children out as her own.”

“This was an important decision for families with adopted children,” noted attorney Deborah Wald, who represented S.Y. on appeal. “The Court of Appeal clarified that when children are raised by same-sex parents but only one parent adopted the children, both parents should be legally recognized.”

Prior California case law had already established that when one member of a same-sex couple gives birth to a child, who is then raised by both partners, both partners should be legally recognized as parents. This decision makes clear that this rule applies to children who are initially adopted into families headed by same-sex parents.

“We are very pleased that the court enforced California law, which clearly provides that children’s relationships with the people who assume parental responsibility for them should be protected,” said Catherine Sakimura, director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights’ Family Protection Project. “California is a leader in recognizing that there are many different types of families and that it is good both for children and for society when the law supports existing family bonds.”

S.Y. said: “I had my children with me this weekend, and for the first time in years I didn't have to be afraid that it would be the last time they spent a weekend with me. I am so grateful to the attorneys who helped me win my right to continue raising and supporting my kids — and to the court for seeing our family for what it is.”

The case, S.Y. v. S.B., was decided by the Third Appellate District of the California Court of Appeal, which is based in Sacramento. S.Y. was represented in her appeal by Deborah Wald of Wald & Thorndal PC, and was represented at trial by Eileen S. Gillis.