Reversing a lower-court decision, the Nebraska Supreme Court has ruled that a lesbian couple can adopt a 3-year-old child who has lived with them since birth.
In July 2020, Dixon County Judge Douglas Luebe said that he had no jurisdiction to grant an adoption to the couple — identified by the American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska as K.H. and M.V., who asked to keep their names anonymous — because they were listed in their petition as "wife and wife," according to the Nebraska Supreme Court. In his order, Luebe referred to a version of Black's Law Dictionary that defined "wife" as "a woman who has a lawful living husband."
On Friday, the Nebraska high court rejected Luebe's reasoning, maintaining that state adoption laws allow any married couple to adopt, provided both partners were listed on the adoption application.
The only stipulation in Justice William B. Cassel's decision regarding adoption law is that "…if the person had 'a husband or wife,' the husband or wife had to join in the petition."
The couple sought the adoption of the child after the biological mother had already relinquished her parental rights, and the biological father had not sought any form of custody.
The couple's attorney, Matthew Munderloh, stated in his opening arguments that the couple had filled out all consent and relinquishment forms, as well as completed home study and background checks. In other words, they had proved themselves to be fit parents in a fit household. Munderloh also added that "the Constitution and Obergefell v. Hodges and its progeny require an interpretation that would allow the adoption to proceed."
LGBTQIA+ legal and policy counsel for the ACLU of Nebraska, Sara Rips, also joined K.H. and M.V.'s appeal, and was surprised and pleased that "They heard oral arguments on March 4 and issued an opinion on March 26 — which is unheard of… Normally you expect two to three months."
Rip also stated that the accumulation of these kinds of decisions would help strengthen nationwide understanding that marriage equality extends beyond the right to be legally married:
"They build on top of each other — when you win cases like this, you make it more clear LGBTQ rights are not a passing fad," Rips said. "The more time that passes, the more cases that build up an institution, the more support you have that institution is not going away. You build that foundation brick by brick, case by case."
Dixon County Judge Douglas Luebe did not respond to requests for comment, but a spokesperson for Nebraska Supreme Court told NBC:
Nebraska judges are prohibited from commenting on specific cases.