JACKSON, MS (Mississippi News Now) - On Thursday U.S. District Court Judge Daniel P. Jordan III struck down Mississippi's ban on adoption by same-sex adoption.
His ruling in Campaign for Southern Equality v. Mississippi Department of Human Services et al. means that same-sex couples in Mississippi now have a right to adopt. In his ruling, Judge Jordan III explicitly stated that the Mississippi law banning adoption by gay couples "violates the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution."
Mississippi was the last state in the country to have a statutory ban on same-sex adoption.
"We are obviously thrilled with today's ruling, but our clients are beyond ecstatic. And that is exactly as it should be. Two sets of our clients have waited many (almost 9 and 16) years to become legal parents to the children they have loved and cared for since birth. We hope that it should finally be clear that discrimination against gay people simply because they are gay violates the Constitution in all 50 states, including Mississippi," says Roberta Kaplan, lead attorney in the case.
This case was originally filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi on behalf of four same-sex couples: Kari Lunsford and Tinora Sweeten-Lunsford, who are seeking to adopt a child; Brittany Rowell and Jessica Harbuck, also seeking to adopt; Donna Phillips and Janet Smith, parents to a young daughter; and Kathryn Garner and Susan Hrostowski, who have a 15-year-old son. Two organizations,the Campaign for Southern Equality and Family Equality Council, joined the case as plaintiffs representing LGBT families across Mississippi.
Lead counsel for the plaintiffs is Roberta Kaplan of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP. Plaintiffs are also represented by Mississippi attorney Robert McDuff and Sibyl Byrd of McDuff & Byrd, based in Jackson and Meghann Burke of Brazil and Burke, P.A. based in Asheville, NC. This legal team filed the federal case that struck down Mississippi's ban on marriage for same-sex couples in 2014. Campaign for S. Equal. v. Bryant, 64 F. Supp. 3d 906 (S.D. Miss. 2014).
"We are so overwhelmed with joy. Our son just turned 16 on Easter Sunday and is going to get his driver's license tomorrow. For us, the feeling and the way we have operated as a family have never been impacted by this law. But to have this ruling and to be able to start the adoption proceedings tomorrow means everything to me. There is no greater joy on this planet than to have him as my son and for the world to understand, appreciate and affirm that he is my son. It means everything," says plaintiff Susan Hrostowski.
According to data from the 2010 Census, 29% of the 3,484 same-sex couples currently living in Mississippi are raising children under the age of 18 in their homes. As of 2014, 996 same-sex couple households in Mississippi were raising 1,401 children, according to the Williams Institute at the U.C.L.A. School of Law.
Beyond this, there are currently approximately 100 children in Mississippi who are in foster care and legally available for adoption, but who have not been matched with parents who can adopt them.
"LGBT families live in every town across Mississippi and can finally have the rights and protections that every family should. This ruling is a critical step forward in the journey toward full equality in every sphere of life for LGBT people in Mississippi," says Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, Executive Director of the Campaign for Southern Equality, which has been advocating for LGBT equality across Mississippi since 2012.
"Today's decision by the Court is a victory for our plaintiff couples and is a giant step forward in achieving full legal and lived equality for all families living in Mississippi." Emily Hecht-McGowan, Interim Executive Director, Family Equality Council.
Based in Asheville, North Carolina, the Campaign for Southern Equality is a non-profit organization that empowers LGBT individuals and families across the South and advocates for full legal equality for all.
Family Equality Council connects, supports, and represents the three million parents who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer in this country today and their six million children of all ages. For over 30 years, we have raised our children and raised our voices toward fairness for all families. http://www.familyequality.org