The Nebraska Supreme Court has reversed a ruling by a judge who denied a lesbian couple’s petition to adopt a child because he said a dictionary defined a “wife” as having a husband.
Last year, two married women sought to adopt a three-year-old child whom they had raised since her birth. According to the Omaha World-Herald, the two women married in California and 2008. The case involved their efforts to adopt a young girl that had been born to one woman’s sister in 2017. The newspaper reported that the child’s biological mother relinquished custody, and her father never sought custody.
So the lesbian couple decided to file for adoption in Dixon County Court in May 2020.
But county judge Douglas Luebe denied the petition because he said he had no jurisdiction to grant the request to the women, who were listed in their petition as “wife and wife”. He argued that a law dictionary defined “wife” as a “woman who has a lawful living husband”.
The Omaha World-Herald reported that Luebe described himself as “old-fashioned” during the special hearing on legal issues raised by the women’s petition. He concluded that the “plain ordinary language” of Nebraska’s state adoption law doesn’t permit “wife and wife” to stop and said any other conclusion would turn the court into an “imagination station”.
The lesbian couple appealed the ruling, and the state’s high court unanimously ruled in their favour, saying the common definition of “wife” is a “married woman”. The court said the adoption law says “any minor child may be adopted by any adult persons”. It also requires that if the potential parent has a “husband or wife”, that spouse must join in the adoption petition.
The high court added that – even if they used definitions found in the old law dictionary that Luebe used – both women could simply fall into the category of “adult person”, and the adoption could continue.
Sara Rips, an attorney with the ACLU of Nebraska and represented the couple, called the ruling “huge” because it affirmed that LGBT+ married couples have the right to adopt a child together. She told the Omaha World-Herald that the ruling falls in line with the 2015 US Supreme Court ruling that legalised same-sex marriage and later decisions that upheld the rights of same-sex married couples to be given the same treatment as heterosexual married couples.
But Rips told the AP that she thinks “there will always be challenges” to the rights of LGBT+ couples. She added: “I think we have a lot of fight left to go.”