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AG ordered to explain 'willful disregard' of same-sex adoption decree

AG ordered to explain 'willful disregard' of same-sex adoption decree

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SALT LAKE CITY — A 3rd District judge has ordered Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes to explain the state's refusal to recognize a same-sex couple's legal adoption.

Judge Andrew Stone summoned Reyes and two state health department officials to a hearing June 16 to "show why they should not be held in contempt for their willful disregard and refusal to obey the Decree of Step-Parent Adoption."

"The state of Utah is in open defiance of a valid court order," said Cliff Rosky, a University of Utah law professor and Equality Utah board member speaking for the couple and their attorney. "The parents have lost patience at this point and have said you're in contempt of court."

Utah Solicitor General Bridget Romano said the state is not ignoring Stone's order. The attorney general wants the Utah Supreme Court to decide whether the state can abide the adoption decree and not run afoul of the state law banning same-sex marriage.

"We don't believe that we can, and we're asking for that clarification," she said.

Kimberly and Amber Leary, who have been together six years, married and petitioned for an adoption during the brief time same-sex marriage was legal in Utah. They had spent three years planning for their daughter, who was born to Amber Leary and is now 18 months old.

Stone finalized the adoption on March 26, making them the legal parents of the child. But when the Learys asked the health department to amend the birth certificate with both their names, it refused on the advice of the attorney general's office.

"To have amended the birth certificates as directed by the court would have put the office of vital statistics in a position of having to recognize the marriages and to accord them government benefits, which they believe violates Utah law," Romano said.

Rosky said the court gave the attorney general's office, which took the position that all same-sex marriages in Utah are on hold, the opportunity to object to the adoption, but it declined.

Kimberly and Amber Leary
Kimberly and Amber Leary

Utah law is clear that after an adoption becomes final, no one can challenge it for any reason under any circumstances because of the disruption it would cause a family, he said.

"But the attorney general ignored that and has now gone to the Utah Supreme Court challenging the adoption, in fact suing the judge for granting the adoption," Rosky said.

Supporters of the Learys have called the state's action mean-spirited.

Romano said the judges are aware that the state asked the Supreme Court for guidance for what it's obligated to do with the adoption orders and comply with Utah law.

"The state is not seeking to undo any of these adoptions," she said, adding it presumes the parents are acting in the best interest of their children.

"It's not a personal attack on anyone. It's no more an attack on the judges than it is on these families," Romano said. "We respect the hardship and the state is certainly not taking this lightly."

Reyes, health department executive director David Patton and Janice Houston, state registrar and director of the Utah Office of Vital Records and Statistics, intend to comply with the Stone's order to appear in court, Romano said.


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