A decision by the Maine Supreme Court last week, in an inheritance dispute of considerable value involving a very large trust set up by one of the founders of IBM for the benefit of his descendants, the Court ruled that an adult adoption of a same-sex partner was legitimate. The issue largely centered on whether the adoptee-partner was "a descendant" and part of the trust beneficiary class who could gain a share of the substantial trust. According to the Court, she is.
Read the opinion: Adoption of Patricia S, (Maine Sup. Ct. July 23, 2009)
What are the ramifications for same-sex couples seeking to protect their partner's right to inherit from them without familial interference? Is this double-dipping? (In other words, does a rightful heir increase his or her share by getting another heir qualified for a share?
For more on this topic, See Professor Terry L. Turnipseed's scholarly article:
Turnipseed, Terry L., "Scalia's Ship of Revulsion Has Sailed: Will Lawrence Protect Adults Who Adopt Lovers to Help Ensure their Inheritance from Incest Prosecution?" (December 17, 2008). Hamline Law Review, Vol. 32, p. 95, Winter 2009. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1317437 [Accessed July 28, 2009]
The Abstract from SRRN:
There is a growing trend in this country - startling to many - of adopting one's adult lover or spouse for various reasons, mostly inheritance-based. Should one who adopts his or her adult lover or spouse be prosecuted for incest? Think about it: the person is having sexual relations with his or her legal child. Is that not incest? Even if a state agrees that it is, will Lawrence v. Texas now protect this behavior, preventing these people from being successfully prosecuted for this type of incest? Indeed, given its prevalence in modern society, will this be the first post-Lawrence individual sexual privacy rights case to which the Court will grant a writ of certiorari?
In no less than four instances, Justice Scalia in Lawrence warned that adult incest can no longer be outlawed by state or federal governments: with the decision in Lawrence, Justice Scalia lost his incest repellant (i.e., Bowers). Others have echoed Justice Scalia's sentiments. Since the Court's decision in Lawrence, the median viewpoint among legal scholars seems to be that incest is the next battle. It appears that neither Justice Scalia, nor legal scholars realize that the parade of horribles - with adult adoption of lovers leading the band - has already started. It has started with a whimper, though, and not a bang. It has not begun with what is considered "core" incest (sexual relations between biological parents and children or between biological full siblings), but instead with a growing set of behavior classified in many states as incest - sexual relations between an adult who adopts his or her lover or spouse where no parent/child relationship ever existed between the two (a subset of "non-core" incest that also includes sexual relations between distant relatives such as cousins).
For some time now adults - both heterosexual and homosexual - have been adopting their lovers and spouses all over the country for various reasons: to better guarantee the adoptee's right to inherit directly from the adoptor; to keep collateral relatives from having standing to contest the adoptor's estate plan; or to add a loved one to a class of trust beneficiaries (allowing the adoptee to inherit "through" the adoptor). It appears that, post-Lawrence, both the academy and the judiciary have completely overlooked this steadily growing, albeit stealthy, trend.
I wonder if both sides are scared to go to war? Are they scared to engage fully in a prosecution for this type of incest, only to be rebuffed by a Lawrence-based constitutional defense? The stakes are extraordinarily high. If a constitutional challenge to a prosecution for incest of an adult who adopted a lover where no parent/child relationship ever existed were successful, it would likely validate at least some, and possibly all, of Justice Scalia's anxious Lawrence dissent, and the whole house of sexual-crime cards could well fall with it: not only for this strand of incest laws, but also for laws addressing "core" incest, adultery, bestiality, masturbation, fornication, bigamy, and possibly ending with the brass ring of same-sex marriage. Though no one seems to realize it right now, the outcome of this upcoming battle might well impact millions of American lives.
It seems to me that, on balance, the stronger legal arguments favor constitutional protection against criminalization of sexual relations with one's adopted adult lover where no prior parent/child relationship ever existed, i.e., Lawrence protection for this non-core behavior. I suspect that with the right set of facts, the right proponents, and a Court that takes Lawrence at its word, incest laws as they relate to adult adoption of these lovers will fall, and fall relatively soon. My view is that incest statutes may survive a facial attack under Lawrence, but should fall in a challenge as-applied to the non-core incest scenarios addressed in this Article.
An adult who adopts his or her lover (neither ever having been in an adult/child relationship) would seem ripe for protection under Lawrence. This is happening with enough frequency that surely multiple cases will emerge over the next few years, very likely yielding differing results. This would make this issue primed for the Court to grant certiorari sooner rather than later, quite possibly the first post-Lawrence case down Justice Scalia's Teflon-coated slope. If, as I expect and hope, Lawrence is extended to protect against criminalization of this behavior, opponents and supporters will, in time, look back at this issue as the catalyst that spread the Lawrence wildfire. How much of the personal sexual privacy landscape that becomes enveloped by the protection of Lawrence is anyone's guess, but perhaps no post-Lawrence legal issue is presently riper for review, making adult adoption of lovers the stealth bomber that Justice Scalia should fear the most.
Thanks to the Family Law Prof Blog for this item. According to that Blog, "the article looks at multiple angles on the issue of adult adoptions of spouses or romantic partners, including the distinct possibility that in about half of the states, the adoptor could be prosecuted for incest resulting in serious jail time (which has occurred on many occasions in many states in the past) and whether Lawrence now protects this behavior."