A state law requiring unwed fathers to formally acknowledge paternity or establish a parental relationship to have any say in child-adoption decisions is legal, the Utah Court of Appeals has ruled.

In a unanimous decision of the three-member court, released Monday, Judge Regnal Garff denied the appeal by Steven H. Swayne, seeking custody of his 15-month-old daughter.Swayne's suit against The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Social Services agency was dismissed March 4 by 3rd District Judge Homer Wilkinson.

Although the appeals court upheld Wilkinson's decision that Swayne was not entitled to custody, it reversed the lower court, ruling the matter did not involve a state action since the church's private adoption agency placed the infant.

Swayne, a Salt Lake County resident, contended a state law requiring an unwed father wishing to have parental rights in adoption matters to file a document admitting paternity or establishing a "substantial" relationship with the child is a violation of the constitutional guarantee of equal protection.

Because mothers are under no such obligations, Swayne argued, the law is unconstitutional, basing rights "solely on the basis of their sex."

But Garff, citing previous Utah Supreme Court decisions, said the law is "reasonably calculated to serve the proper governmental objectives of promptly identifying those fathers who will acknowledge parental responsibilities and speedily making children for adoption."

The law does not discriminate on the basis of gender, Garff said, because a mother may be deprived of her parental rights if she is shown to be unfit or abusive.