(Reuters) - A federal judge on Thursday struck down Mississippi's ban on adoption by same-sex couples, saying it violated the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution, according to court records.
The decision by U.S. District Judge Daniel Jordan came in response to a lawsuit filed in August 2015 on behalf of four legally married same-sex couples, two of whom are already raising children, as well as the Campaign for Southern Equality and the Family Equality Council.
The plaintiffs argued that the ban discriminated against legally married couples.
The Mississippi ban on adoption by same-sex couples was the only one of its kind in the United States. Gay marriage was legalized in the state in 2014.
The lawsuit came just weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down gay marriage bans as unconstitutional across the country.
"Two sets of our clients have waited many (almost nine and 16) years to become legal parents to the children they have loved and cared for since birth," Roberta Kaplan, lead attorney in the case, said in a statement on Thursday. "We hope that it should finally be clear that discrimination against gay people simply because they are gay violates the Constitution in all 50 states, including Mississippi."
The Mississippi Department of Human Services, which was named in the lawsuit, could not immediately be reached for comment.
In his decision, Jordan referred to the opinion by the Supreme Court that struck down the same-sex marriage bans.
It seems "highly unlikely that the same court that held a state cannot ban gay marriage because it would deny benefits - expressly including the right to adopt — would then conclude that married gay couples can be denied that very same benefit," Jordan wrote.
Citing 2010 census data, the lawsuit said one-third of the 3,484 same-sex couples living in Mississippi were raising children.
About 100 children in Mississippi are in foster care and legally available for adoption, the lawsuit said.
Plaintiff Susan Hrostowski, who has a 16-year-old son with her wife, co-plaintiff Kathryn Garner, said they had operated as a family in spite of the law but that the decision "means everything."
"There is no greater joy on this planet than to have him as my son and for the world to understand, appreciate and affirm that he is my son," Hrostowski said.
(Reporting by Karen Brooks; Editing by Peter Cooney)