CSE v. Bryant II (adoption in MS)

Current status: On March 31, 2016 U.S. District Court Judge Daniel P. Jordan III granted a preliminary injunction against Mississippi’s ban on same-sex adoption. The ruling was not appealed and same-sex couples in Mississippi can now adopt. 


Case NameCampaign for Southern Equality v. Mississippi Department of Human Services

Date Filed: August 12, 2015

Date of Ruling: March 31, 2016

Plaintiffs: The case was filed 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 — join the case as plaintiffs representing the LGBT families across Mississippi.

Legal Team: Lead counsel for the plaintiffs is Roberta Kaplan of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP.  Plaintiffs are also represented by Mississippi attorney Robert McDuff of McDuff & Byrd, based in Jackson, Mississippi.

Key updates:

A federal lawsuit was filed on August 12th, 2015 challenging the constitutionality of Mississippi’s law banning adoption by same-sex couples. At the time, Mississippi was the only state left in the nation that bans gay couples from adopting without regard for their qualifications as parents or the best interests of the child. Read coverage of the lawsuit by the New York Times.

According to data from the 2010 Census, 29 percent 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. 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.

The complaint reads:

“The Mississippi Adoption Ban writes inequality into Mississippi law by requiring that married gay and lesbian couples be treated differently than all other married couples in Mississippi, unequivocally barring them from adoption without regard to their circumstances or qualifications as parents.  As a consequence, the equal dignity of hundreds of families and thousands of children in Mississippi is disrespected and the significant and concrete rights, benefits, and duties that come with legal parentage are denied.  The Mississippi Adoption Ban means that “thousands of . . . children [are] actually being raised in homes . . . [with] only one legal parent, not the two who want them.”  Matter of Jacob, 660 N.E.2d 397, 398 (N.Y. 1995).  The Mississippi Adoption Ban is an outdated relic of a time when the courts and legislatures believed that it was okay to discriminate against gay people simply because they are gay.  But under the Supreme Court’s decisions in Obergefell and Windsor, such discrimination against children because their parents happen to be gay is clearly unconstitutional.”

“Mississippi’s ban on adoption by gay and lesbian couples blatantly discriminates against loving families, unfairly harms innocent children, and plainly cannot be reconciled with the constitutional guarantees of due process and equal protection as recently interpreted by the Supreme Court,” says lead counsel Roberta Kaplan.

Plaintiffs Brittany Rowell and Jessica Harbuck, who live in Jackson and are engaged to marry in January of 2016, add, “Like many other couples, we are looking into the future and how we want to start expanding our family. We feel compelled to adopt because the staggering statistics for children in foster care are daunting. We want to open our home to a child and make them feel safe, wanted, and loved. Every child deserves that. And we would be honored to be able to change the life of a child.”


Full list of documents:

March 31, 2016: Ruling by Judge Jordan, striking down law banning adoption by same-sex couples

October 13, 2016: Reply to state’s motion to dismiss and Declaration and Affidavits

August 28, 2016: Motion for preliminary injunction

August 12, 2015: Campaign for Southern Equality v. Mississippi Department of Human Services complaint