Court denies adoption citing Alabama anti-gay marriage law

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An appeals court ruled Friday that a Mobile County woman can't adopt her female partner's child because of Alabama's law defining marriage as being between a man and woman.

The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals ruled that Cari Searcy can't adopt her partner's child even though the couple was married in California. Searcy said she and Kimberly McKeand were married after responding to a contest advertised in a San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau publication asking people to write an essay explaining why the wanted to marry in California. They married in September 2008 during the brief period before same-sex marriages were banned in California by a ballot measure, Proposition 8.

The unanimous opinion, written by Presiding Judge Bill Thompson, said one member of the couple cannot adopt the other's child. The opinion said marriages between same-sex couples are not recognized in Alabama even if they were conducted in another state.

The women and the child were only identified by initials in the court ruling, but Searcy told The Associated Press that she and McKeand were OK with being identified.

Searcy was appealing a decision of Mobile County Probate Court that she could not adopt the child, Khaya, because under Alabama law she and McKeand were not considered to be married.

A supporter of Alabama's law banning same sex marriage, Republican state Sen. Gerald Allen of Tuscaloosa, said he believes this is the first time a court has upheld a 2006 constitutional amendment that declared marriage was between a man and a woman.

"This ruling solidifies the fact the institution of marriage includes a man and a woman raising the children," Allen said.

In the opinion, the court says Searcy's marriage to McKeand is not recognized and therefore under Alabama law she "is not the spouse of the child's mother."

Searcy and McKeand have been together as a couple for 14 years. Searcy said McKeand had artificial insemination so the couple could have Khaya, who both women consider their son. She said the boy is now 6 years old and in the first grade. She said Alabama law only recognizes McKeand as the mother even though the child was raised by both women and refers to Searcy as MeMaw and McKeand as Mom.

Searcy said she first started trying to adopt the child when he was a baby and the couple decided to try to get married in California after the adoption application was turned down the first time.

Searcy's attorney, Vivian Beckerle of Mobie, said she had warned the couple not to be surprised if they lost the appeal. She said a purpose of the appeal was to insure that both women had the same legal rights concerning the child's care. Searcy said that was an issue when he had surgery as a baby and only McKeand was allowed to sign permission forms for certain medical procedures.

Beckerle described Searcy and McKeand as "a loving couple."

"They just want to bring him up as a legally recognized family," the attorney said.

Alabama's only openly gay legislator, state Rep. Patricia Todd of Birmingham, said the court's ruling was disappointing."

If we truly care about the welfare of children it's most important that they be in a loving family. It restricts the ability to raise the child if only one parent can have custody," Todd said.

Searcy said she believes they have been loving parents for Khaya.

"We try to do our best," she said.