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Ruling affects adoptions by lesbians

LOUISVILLE — Lesbians and others barred from marrying in Kentucky cannot legally adopt their partners' children as if they were stepparents, an appeals court ruled.

A three-judge Kentucky Court of Appeals panel ruled Friday that stepparent adoptions are allowed only when the stepmother or stepfather is married to the biological parent. The ruling did not bar gay couples from adopting through traditional channels, but stepparents have a special status that makes it less complicated for them to adopt their spouses' children.

The case involved a Jefferson County lesbian couple. One gave birth after artificial insemination and, after the couple split up, allowed the other woman to adopt the child. Louisville attorney Trisha Zeller claimed the child was the second woman's stepson, and Family Court Judge Eleanore Garber approved the adoption.

Under Kentucky law, a stepparent does not need approval from the state Cabinet for Families and Children to adopt.

Later, after a dispute over visitation, the biological mother challenged the adoption. Garber agreed she had erred but said the mother waited too long to go to court.

The appeals court also allowed the adoption, agreeing that the mother waited more than a year to challenge it, but said other such adoptions will not be legal. In a similar future situation, the woman could not be considered a stepparent because lesbians cannot legally wed in Kentucky.

Zeller could not be reached for comment. The women and their son, now 8, are identified in the ruling only by their initials.

The ruling was reported Tuesday by The Courier-Journal of Louisville.

A lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union said the ruling hurts children.

"It's basically denying a child the protection of having two legal parents, simply because the parents are gay," said Christine Sun, who works in the ACLU's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights division.

Sun said the ruling also affects gay men and heterosexuals in Kentucky who seek to adopt but are not married to the child's biological parent.

Sun said courts in other states have ruled that stepparent-like adoptions are in the best interests of children despite laws, like Kentucky's, that bar gay couples from marriage. She said those states include Indiana and Illinois.