Lawyers for the couple had asked the high court to embrace a broad reading of the Constitution’s full faith and credit clause that would have required Louisiana to jettison its policy in light of New York’s adoption decree. In addition, they argued that the clause empowered individuals to sue a state that fails to accommodate a sister-state’s decree.
Louisiana embraced a much narrower reading of the full faith and credit clause.
Article IV, Section 1 of the Constitution says in part: “Full faith and credit shall be given in each state to the public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other state.”
A gay rights group, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, filed suit on the parents' behalf, arguing that Louisiana had a constitutional duty to fully recognize the legality of the New York adoption. They said there is no exception allowing states to discriminate against certain adoptions that don’t comply with home-state policies.
A federal judge and a three-judge appeals court panel agreed. The Louisiana official was ordered to issue the amended birth certificate.
Louisiana appealed, seeking review by the entire Fifth Circuit. In a sharply split decision, the Fifth Circuit reversed the earlier judgments, ruling that the full faith and credit clause applied only to state courts, not to state officials acting pursuant to state law.
Writing for the majority, Chief Judge Edith Jones said the Louisiana registrar had neither refused nor denied recognition of New York’s adoption decree. Rather, the issue faced by the registrar was whether to issue a corrected birth certificate to adoptive parents who were unmarried.
Chief Judge Jones wrote: “The full faith and credit clause does not oblige Louisiana to confer particular benefits on unmarried adoptive parents contrary to its law.”
She added: “Louisiana has a right to issue birth certificates in the manner it deems fit.”