On Tuesday, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision in a case challenging the state registrar’s decision not to modify a state birth certificate so as to list two men as the “fathers” of a child. The men had adopted a child who was born in Louisiana. The adoption took place in New York. The couple then asked for an amended birth certificate. The registrar declined citing Louisiana law. The men sued, arguing that the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the U.S. Constitution required Louisiana to effectuate the New York adoption judgment by modifying the birth certificate.
The trial court and a three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit agreed with the two men, but the entire court, sitting en banc, reversed in an 11–5 decision. The majority opinion (by Chief Judge Edith Jones) said the Full Faith and Credit Clause did not create an individual right enforceable in federal courts and, even if it had, what the men were asking Louisiana to do was not to “recognize” the New York judgment (as FF&C requires) but to “enforce” it (a matter of Louisiana law, which did not provide for the specific modification sought).
The majority further said Louisiana “may rationally conclude that having parenthood focused on a married couple or single individual — not on the freely severable relationship of unmarried partners — furthers the interests of adopted children” and rejected an equal-protection challenge to Louisiana’s actions.
The decision is sound and provides an important protection of states that might otherwise be required to implement the social-engineering schemes of sister states through an expansive reading of Full Faith and Credit.
Full disclosure: I wrote an amicus brief filed at an earlier stage of the case.