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Local adoption agency involved in Supreme Court ruling | News

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Local adoption agency involved in Supreme Court ruling

When the Supreme Court begins oral arguments on Tuesday in a monumental argument over same-sex marriage, a Western New York adoption agency will find itself in the middle of the decision.

Beginning this week, the country's highest court will consider two questions: 1) Does the Constitution allow states to explicitly ban same-sex marriage, or is this type of marriage protected? and 2) Does the Constitution require states with same-sex marriage bans to at least recognize legal marriages in other states?

This second question is where Western New York comes into play.

Two of the plaintiffs in the Supreme Court case, which consolidates a series of lawsuits from four different states, adopted their two-year-old son through Amherst-based Adoption STAR, Inc. New York City residents Joseph Vitale and Rob Talmas legally married each other in the state of New York, but their adopted son, Cooper, was born in Ohio, which bans same-sex marriage.

That became an issue when Talmas and Vitale applied for a birth certificate, according to Adoption STAR Associate Director Michael Hill.

"They were willing to give a birth certificate to the couple," Hill said, "but they indicated that only one of them could have their name listed on their son's birth certificate."

So that's how the two men joined this series of lawsuits-- by claiming that the state of Ohio, despite its ban, should recognize their right to legally marry in New York and serve as two equal fathers to Cooper.

Talmas and Vitale, who will attend oral arguments in Washington, D.C., spoke with 2 On Your Side via Skype this weekend.

"This is all about, at this point, our son Cooper," Vitale said. "We want to make sure both of our names our listed on his birth certificate so there's no question, on his side, who his parents are."

The two men explained that having only one name on a birth certificate could affect everything from school forms and passports to more serious matters like Social Security and hospital visits.

"It's not really about us. New York recognizes our marriage and that's fantastic," Talmas said. "It's about recognizing Cooper, and who Cooper is, and giving him the same rights and abilities as any other child in the United States."

In 2013, the Supreme Court ruled that the federal government's definition of "marriage" as a union between only a man and a woman was unconsitutional. The court also overturned a same-sex marriage ban in California.

The latest round of decisions, though, will answer even broader questions about how the courts must interpret same-sex marriage under the United States Constitution. It's possible the court could rule in favor of allowing same-sex marriage bans-- but still rule that states with bans must at least recognize marriages from other states, such as Cooper's case in Ohio. It could also rule in favor of both or against both.

"This particular lawsuit is incredibly historic," Hill said. "We're talking about an innocent child. This child is being treated differently by the state in which he was born, strictly as a result of having same-sex parents."


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