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The undifferentiated distinction between unwed mothers and unwed fathers in N.Y. Dom. Rel. Law § 111, applicable in all circumstances where adoption of a child of theirs is at issue, does not bear a substantial relationship to the State's asserted interests in providing adoptive homes for its illegitimate children.
N.Y. Dom. Rel. Law § 111 granted an unwed mother the authority to block the adoption of her child simply by withholding her consent, but did not give an unwed father a similar right. The unwed, natural father of two children challenged the constitutionality of the New York statute after a New York Surrogate granted, without the father's consent, a petition to adopt the children by their natural mother and her present husband. The natural father had in fact resided with the mother for several years, was identified as the father of the children on their birth certificates, had contributed to their support, and had maintained consistent contact with the children after separating from the mother. The New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, affirmed the Surrogate's grant of the adoption petition, and the New York Court of Appeals similarly affirmed.
By not granting unwed fathers the right to block the adoption of their child, did N.Y. Dom. Rel. Law § 111 violate the Equal Protection Clause?
The Court found that N.Y. Dom. Rel. Law § 111 treated unmarried parents differently according to their sex because adoption by appellant was held impermissible in the absence of appellee mother's consent, whereas adoption by appellee mother could be prevented by appellant only if he could show that appellees' adoption of the children would not be in the children's best interest. The Court found that the distinction in § 111 between unmarried mothers and unmarried fathers did not bear a substantial relation to the State's interest in providing adoptive homes for its illegitimate children, and was not justified by an asserted fundamental difference between maternal and paternal relations. As such, the Court concluded that N.Y. Dom. Rel. Law § 111 violated the Equal Protection Clause.