Legal / News & Politics

Virginia Decision Allows Same-Sex Couples Access to Adoption and Foster Care

Same-sex couples in states including Kansas, Nevada, Colorado and West Virginia have already obtained marriage licenses and begun to wed, reaping the most immediate benefit of the United States Supreme Court’s decision last week not to interfere with federal appeals court decisions upholding the right to marriage equality. But a recent press release from Virginia offers a clear sign that the practical effects of the current wave of same-sex marriage decisions is only beginning to be fully felt.

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe announced on Friday that he has directed the Virginia Department of Social Services to allow same-sex spouses to adopt children and serve as foster parents, effective immediately. “Now that same-sex marriage in Virginia is officially legal, we owe it to all Virginians to ensure that every couple is treated equally under all of our laws, no matter whom they love,” Governor McAuliffe stated in his news release. “This historic decision opened the door to marriage equality, and now it is my sincerest hope that it will also open more doors for Virginia children who need loving families.”

The decision will not only affect the right of same-sex married couples to jointly adopt children and serve as foster parents going forward. It will also allow lesbians and gay men to seek full and formal recognition of pre-existing families, allowing Virginians to legally adopt the children of their same-sex spouse, a process called “step-parent adoption.” Until Friday’s announcement, only one parent in a same-sex household could legally adopt, and there was no way for a lesbian or gay man in Virginia to be recognized as the leal parent of a spouse’s biological or adopted child.

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Virginia LGBT Family Attorney Colleen M. Quinn

Lawyers in Virginia have already begun to prepare for the changes in the law. Attorney Colleen Quinn, a member of the Virginia Equality Bar Association and partner at the law office of Locke & Quinn in Richmond, Virginia, has represented LGBT couples and their families for more than a decade, and already has been retained by ten same-sex couples to file petitions to legally adopt their spouse’s children based on recent legal events.

Quinn has published a memo explaining various options for same-sex parents, and is reaching out to former clients to let them know that they have to take affirmative steps to protect their new rights.  “The biggest misconception I have seen since the Supreme Court’s decision,” notes Quinn “is that many lesbian and gay families mistakenly think that because their marriage is now recognized in Virginia, both same-sex parents are now automatically recognized as parents under Virginia law. I have to explain to them that this isn’t so unless they go through the process of a step-parent adoption.” According to Quinn, the process can take a little as two weeks, or as long as several months.    

According to Freedomtomarry.org, a website that has been chronicling the details of the same-sex marriage campaign, the federal government gives more than 1,100 protections and responsibilities to married couples, including “access to health care, parenting and immigration rights, Social Security, veterans and survivor benefits, and transfer of property—and that doesn’t include several hundred state and local laws, protections conferred by employers, or the intangible security, dignity, respect, and meaning that comes with marriage.” The newly earned right to file step-parent adoptions in Virginia will close many of the legal loopholes faced by couples who are now legally married, but who began raising children together before their marriage was recognized. 

Same-sex married couples in Virginia can learn more about adoption and about children available for adoption on the commonwealth’s Department of Social Services website. Recently married same-sex couples who already have children should seek legal advice to ensure that their family obtains all of the protections they are entitled to under recent changes in the law. Governor McAuliffe should be lauded for taking swift, public action to show same-sex couples the new ways in which their marriage license can make a difference in their lives.

FEATURE PHOTO CREDIT: GAY HEALTH ZONE

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2 Comments

  1. Jan Kaminsky says:

    The dominoes are falling. 50 state victory will be ours soon!

  2. It certainly seems that way. It is hard to believe that this is law now in 30 states. Hats off to the dreamers and the ones who dared to demand equality!

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