LINCOLN — The Nebraska Supreme Court ruled Friday that a same-sex married couple can adopt the 3-year-old girl who has lived with them since birth.
In a unanimous opinion, the state high court overturned Dixon County Judge Douglas Luebe’s decision to toss out an adoption petition filed by two women, K.H. and M.V.
The two married in Van Nuys, California, in 2008. The case involved their effort to adopt Y.S., who was born to M.V.’s sister in 2017. The child’s biological mother relinquished her, and her father never sought custody.
According to court documents, the couple filed for adoption in Dixon County Court in May. Luebe dismissed their case after calling a special hearing on legal issues raised by the petition, during which he described himself as “old-fashioned.”
In his order, he concluded that the “plain ordinary language” of state adoption law does not permit a “wife and wife” to adopt, and said any other conclusion would turn the court into an “imagination station.”
The high court concluded exactly the opposite, citing the plain language of the law. The statute at issue says “any minor child may be adopted by any adult person or persons.” It also requires that if the would-be adopter has “a husband or wife,” that husband or wife must join in the adoption petition.
In its decision, the Supreme Court said that K.H. and M.V. fit the category of adult persons and, based on the common definition of “wife” as “a married woman,” that either woman had fulfilled the requirement to have her wife join in the petition.
The court ruled that state law would permit the adoption even using definitions found in an older law dictionary that Luebe cited. That dictionary defined wife as “a woman with a lawful husband living” and a husband as “a man with a lawful wife living.” Under those definitions, neither K.H. nor M.V. could be defined as a wife or a husband, and therefore, they would simply fall into the category of “adult persons.”
Sara Rips, an attorney with the ACLU of Nebraska and one of those representing the couple, called the decision “huge” because it affirms that same-sex married couples have the right to adopt a child together.
She said the ruling falls in line with the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage nationally and with later decisions that upheld same-sex married couples’ rights to the same treatment as opposite-sex married couples.
Rips noted that the court issued the ruling less than a month after hearing oral arguments.
“This was a clear issue,” she said, adding that other same-sex married couples have adopted in Nebraska in the last five years without being challenged.
The couple asked to take their appeal directly to the State Supreme Court because the case potentially involved the constitutionality of a state law. They invited Attorney General Doug Peterson to file a brief in the case, but he declined.