Kari gave birth to a baby boy and named him Kelsey. Kelsey's biological father, Rickie, and Kari never married. While Kari was pregnant, Rickie knew that Kari wanted to give Kelsey up for adoption, but Rickie wanted to keep the child himself. He and Kari argued about this, but Kari was adamant and sought out adoptive parents.
Two days after Kelsey's birth, but before Rickie knew Kelsey was born, Rickie filed an action in superior court to establish his parental relationship and obtain custody of the child. That same day, the court issued a restraining order that temporarily awarded care, custody, and control of Kelsey to Rickie. The order also stopped all adoption proceedings and prohibited any contact between the child and the prospective adoptive parents, Steven and Suzanne.
Later that same day, Rickie tried to provide Steven and Suzanne with the court orders at their home, but not finding them at home, he was unsuccessful.
Two days later, Steven and Suzanne filed their adoption petition for Kelsey. Their petition alleged that only the mother's consent to the adoption was required because the biological father did not have "presumed father status", and by California law, only a man with "presumed father status" had the same parental rights of the child as the mother. To have "presumed father status", a man must be married to the mother and/or hold the child out as his natural child (in other words, the child must live with him). Since Rickie and Kari were not married and had never lived together, Rickie did not have "presumed father status", and had no legal right to stop the adoption of Kelsey by Steven and Suzanne.
Through subsequent court appearances, Rickie was denied presumed father status because neither he and Kari nor he and Kelsey had ever lived together, and allowed Steven and Suzanne to adopt Kelsey.
Rickie appealed. He argued that the determination of a man's parental rights was based solely on the decision of the mother; that is, if she didn't live with the father, then she could prevent the father from ever acquiring parental rights. This, Rickie argued, violated his rights under equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution, because it denied him the right consent to (or not consent to) the adoption and gave him fewer procedural rights than were given to the mother.
The California State Supreme Court found in Rickie's favor, and that California law did not allow him the same access to participate in his child's wellbeing as the child's mother, thus violating the equal protection clause.
The court further held that it is not the ultimate goal of the state to have children adopted by third parties. The state's goal is to provide for the fair and equal treatment of the parties and from there to determine what is in the best interest of the child.