Adoption, Parenting Not an Easy Step for Virginia’s Same-sex Couples
Raising a child is a major step in a relationship that couples have taken for thousands of years. For some families, adoption is the best opportunity to take part in this aspect of life due to physical or biological restraints.
Many same-sex couples wishing to start a family have turned to adoption, but laws restricting adoption to heterosexual couples continually make it harder for children to go to loving same-sex homes.
Currently, marriage in Virginia is defined by a man and a woman. As explained by adoption attorney Colleen Marea Quinn, Esq., “adoption in Virginia by statute must be by a married couple…or by a single person.”
According to the Richmond Times Dispatch, in 2011 there were “1,200 children awaiting adoption and 6,000 children in Virginia’s foster-care program”. In the same year, Washington Post reported the addition of a “conscience clause” to current adoption laws made by Virginia legislature, allowing “state-funded, faith-based agencies to choose which parents are suitable for adoption based on the agencies’ beliefs.”
The clause essentially permitted adoption agencies to turn away same-sex families if their lifestyle violated the religious beliefs of the agency. “This legislation is about ensuring that foster placement agencies that do not want to place children…with same-sex couples are able to do that,” said Delegate David L. Englin (D-Alexandria) in an article by the Washington Post.
While Virginia laws are making adoption difficult for same-sex families, the process is not impossible. If one partner is approved to adopt the child, the other can then acquire a Joint Custody order. A legal custodian would have many rights as a legal parent of a child, but there are a few key differences.
“A child of a legal parent is protected in terms of inheritance rights…whereas a legal custodian would have to have a will in place in order for that child to inherit,” explained Quinn. “I advise same-sex couples to have reciprocal wills with guardianship and trust agreements in place no matter what.”
And as same-sex couples struggle for marriage equality, the hardships of family equality are on the forefront as well. In cases where unrecognized couples separate, but at one point shared a child, the legality of guardianship and custody lack much legal standing.
Erin and her ex-partner are going through such a complex situation. The former couple recently had a child in Virginia, but issues have led the couple to split, and Erin only has verbal custody of their child. Erin still considers herself the mother of the child. “She’s my child as far as I’m concerned,” said Erin. “She calls me ‘mommy.’”
Since Erin does not have legal custody, the biological mother can decide at any time when Erin can see the child. “If something happens to [the biological mother], there’s a good chance our daughter would end up in foster care before I would get custody,” commented Erin. Currently, Erin is able to see her child, but until she gets written custody, the biological mother will remain the final decision maker in the child’s life.
For couples who wish to avoid the legal headaches of Virginia, there are other options. In 2009, Washington D.C. passed the Domestic Partnership Judicial Determination Parentage Act. In a news release covered by the Washington Post, the law “[provides] children born through artificial insemination with two legal parents from the beginning even when those parents are a same-sex of different-sex unmarried couple.” This includes putting both same-sex parents names on the birth-certificate.
After getting married in New York, Virginia residents Sierra Knight and Kate Magee elected to use artificial insemination and birth their child in D.C, with Kate later applying for adoption as a second-parent. “If I were to die prematurely, no one could ever come in and contest her custody or her right to parent [the child],” said Knight.
Living in Virginia and having a child in D.C. can be a scary thought, but Knight said the process is easier than it sounds. “It can be done, [the question] is just do you want to put in the extra effort to have [equal] rights and benefits,” reassured Knight.
In response to people who believe same-sex families should not raise children, Knight says those opinions only keep children away from caring families. “At the end of the day,” said Knight. “All a child really needs is a loving, nurturing, stable environment and same-sex couples are capable of providing that.”
Maya Earls and is a second-year journalism student at Virginia Commonwealth University. She was born in Los Angeles, and moved to Richmond in 2000. Her first journalism experience was managing social media for the Rock4Life benefit concert.She enjoys exploring Richmond on her bike and finding good views of the river. Her favorite past-time is watching people dance in their cars from her apartment window.
“Come down and see us and come down and work with us.”August 26, 2015
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