Good News: Adoption Victory in the Supreme Court

Rob Schwarzwalder is Senior Vice President at Family Research Council. This article appeared in Religion Today on June 27, 2013.

Adoption binds Christians to the heart of God. Why? Because every follower of Jesus has been adopted by Him and made part of His eternal family. As Paul writes to the Galatians, "when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, 'Abba! Father!' So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God" (4:4-7).

This divine adoption is mirrored in human adoption. Mary's husband Joseph was Jesus' adoptive father, and is therefore recognized in the gospels as the person through whom Jesus' identity as the promised Son of David, the Messiah, was provided (Matthew 1:18-21, Luke 2:1-7).

Apart from the theological, the adoption of children is one of the greatest blessings of life for all involved. I'm an adoptive father, and my wife and I cannot imagine life without our three. Hundreds of thousands of families across America would say the same.

That's why news from the Supreme Court today regarding a particularly painful adoption case is welcome news. As Reuters reports:

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday threw out a lower court order requiring a South Carolina couple to turn over a young girl they had raised since birth to her biological father simply because he was an American Indian. By a 5-4 vote, the court ruled in favor of Matt and Melanie Capobianco, who had been caring for the girl they named Veronica until a family court ordered them to turn her over to her biological father Dusten Brown, a member of the Cherokee Nation. Brown had argued that the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) of 1978, intended to curb practices that caused many Native American children to be separated from their families, entitled him to custody of the girl, who was 3/256th Cherokee.

You read that right: A little girl, whose birthmother purposefully selected her adoptive parents and who had lived with these parents as their legally adopted daughter for two years, was snatched away by a man she had never before seen (her birthfather) on the pretext that she was the tiniest fraction Native American. Her birthfather - himself 3/178th Cherokee - used his own almost non-existent Indian DNA to justify his claim.

Allowing this was racism in raw practice. It was cruelty to a small child and her parents, all of whom will be struggling with the trauma of these events for years. It was the elevation of ethnicity over love and common sense. Commenting on the amicus brief she filed on behalf of the Capobiancos, UC Berkeley School of Law professor Joan Heifetz Hollinger argues:

This is a case that dealt with a situation where a biological father, who knows about the pregnancy and a birth ... sits on the sidelines. This is a message to mothers and fathers that simply using the biological trump card is not a way to establish or sustain a family relationship.

In his ruling for the Court, Justice Samuel Alito wrote:

... [Where] the adoption of an Indian child is voluntarily and lawfully initiated by a non-Indian parent with sole custodial rights, the ICWA's primary goal of preventing the unwarranted removal of Indian children and the dissolution of Indian families is not implicated ... the (South Carolina) State Supreme Court read (that under the ICWA), a biological Indian father could abandon his child in utero and refuse any support for the birth mother - perhaps contributing to the mother's decision to put the child up for adoption - and then could play his ICWA trump card at the eleventh hour to override the mother's decision and the child's best interests. If this were possible, many prospective adoptive parents would surely pause before adopting any child who might possibly qualify as an Indian under the ICWA.

Little Veronica's case now goes back to South Carolina's Supreme Court, but at least the majority of our nation's highest jurists (Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Alito, Breyer, Kennedy and Thomas) have narrowed the parameters of the case to exclude the ludicrous application of a law designed not to prevent the adoption of children but rather their "unwarranted removal" from American Indian families.

Adoption should be for life, as my friend Russell Moore puts it. That's how God sees His children. With the rarest of exceptions, shouldn't the law see it the same way?