In a 2-1 decision, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit today ruled in Bostic v. Schaefer that Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. The decision will not take effect for 21 days, and is likely to be stayed within that time frame. As such, while this is another large step toward marriage equality in Virginia, same-sex couples are not yet able to be married in the Commonwealth.
“Today in the Commonwealth of Virginia, love and fairness won. A federal appeals court ruled what the majority of Virginians already know – marriage is a fundamental freedom that should not be denied to lesbian and gay couples regardless of what state they call home,” said James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia. “While we won’t hear wedding bells today, we are still one step closer – in Virginia, the south, and America – to recognizing and celebrating equality and the diversity of love, commitment, and family.”
This case, or a similar one, will likely be taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court this fall, with a possible ruling in 2015. Until then, it is unlikely that same-sex couples will be able to get married in Virginia.
Equality Virginia is a statewide, non-partisan education, outreach, and advocacy organization seeking equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Virginians. Since 1989, EV has worked to end discrimination, protect families and build safe communities. More information is online at EqualityVirginia.org. Connect on Facebook.com/EqualityVA or Twitter @EqualityVA.
The day before we moved from New York to Virginia this past August, my partner and I found out that we were expecting a second child. As excited as we were–both about the move to Charlottesville and the impending arrival of a new baby–we were dismayed to find ourselves arriving in a legal landscape where our second child would not have the same legal protections as her older sister.
And I, as the non-birth parent, was especially nervous about what this would mean for me. We completed a second-parent adoption for our first child when we were residents of New York, and the security of that legal recognition of my relationship to our child is extremely important to both of us. Suddenly we were faced with a situation in which I might be denied the right to pick our younger daughter from school, make decisions for her in the hospital if she got sick, or take care of her if something happened to my partner. Also, if something happened to me, our daughter would be denied my social security benefits and other protections she should be entitled to as my child.
We regret that Virginia will not allow us to create the same security for our second child. As a result, we took advantage of Washington, DC’s new adoption statute that allows for second-parent adoptions to be completed in the district for any baby born there. That means that we turned our lives upside down, uprooted our family from Virginia and moved to DC for a month in order to ensure that the baby was born within safe borders. We spent countless hours traveling back and forth to DC for doctors’ appointments; we had to consult with lawyers in two jurisdictions; we spent money we wanted to save for the baby on additional transportation, legal, and housing costs.
Against this backdrop, our younger daughter was born in April and we are now adjusting to life with two children. Our two-year-old loves popsicles, singing songs, working with play doh, and cooking together – her favorite is waffles. Our two-month-old is learning to smile and laugh and loves to be sung to. There is never enough time for sleep and there is always a pile of dirty laundry, but we are loving every minute of it. Anyone who has been around small children is familiar with the juggling act required to keep up with them. Our day-to-day lives are defined by all of the joys and all of the challenges that come with parenting two small children.
We have a lot of love in our family and are grateful every day for each of our daughters. In New York, we were able to achieve legal recognition of our family that reflects our love and commitment to each other. We simply could not imagine not having the same legal protections for our younger child as we have for her sister. It is absurd that two children born to the same family could end up with such radically different legal protections. We so wish that Virginia were a place that would provide that security for our younger child and fully recognize our whole family.
It is time for a change in our state’s adoption laws. Virginia families of all shapes, sizes and configurations deserve to be legally protected so that children born here are afforded legal support that reflects the love their families have for them. Even if Virginia gains marriage equality, that is not enough. We need legal status for our families that is portable across state lines, and second parent adoption is an absolutely critical component of achieving full protection and equality for our families.
We both love both of our children and would do anything for either of them; regardless of what Virginia has to say about it.
Sadly, even though we are both parents to our two children, what Virginia has to say about it is that I only have a son and my partner only has a daughter. We are a loving family with two dads and two kids, but our legal protections are less than other families. Do you have a will? Both of us do. I need one to guarantee that “my” son will have the right to live with his daddy if I die. Similarly, my partner has a will primarily so that “his” daughter will still be able to live with me if he dies. Never mind that both of our children have lived with both of us their whole lives and know both of us as Daddy. Virginia doesn’t see it that way. We would love to both be parents (in the legal definition) but that doesn’t stop us from being parents in the actual sense. After all, families come in in all types, ours just happens to be different from some. It is time for Virginia to keep the best interest of children in mind and recognize families like ours.
We live in a very conservative part of Virginia so we knew there was the possibility that two gay men raising children would raise some eyebrows. It has, but overall it’s been okay. So far, we’ve had no problems taking the “other” baby to the doctor and have even switched off care-giving in the middle of an ER visit. Of course, we have to make sure we have both insurance cards handy, because we don’t get to choose whose insurance provides the best coverage for our children; they have to be insured on the “right” Daddy’s plan. I’ve felt very lucky in day-to-day life because we’ve never had to “explain” ourselves when we both show up for an appointment, even at urgent care where we don’t have a preexisting relationship with the staff (and I get the birth year wrong… bad daddy). Even though the state doesn’t recognize both of us as parents, most people – even in conservative Virginia – do, and for me, that really matters. It is time for the law to reflect where Virginians stand on this issue. It is time for my family to be treated the same as other families.
Our daughter starts school in a year and we’ll get to have more experiences then. Since schools are cognizant of guardianship laws that may be our first foray into really dealing with our limited rights, but I’m hopeful a simple conversation with the school administrators will set the stage for a successful relationship there too.
Ultimately, life as a dad has been great, but we’re still looking forward to the day when we feel more protected in our relationship with our children. Second-parent adoption would be a step in the right direction.
Jenny and I had forged a great life for ourselves– our dream life! We had a cute little horse farm in a small town just beyond the suburbs of Washington, DC. I had I job I loved as an equine veterinarian. She had a job she loved as the Program Director and instructor for Simple Changes Therapeutic Riding. Do you see a theme yet? Yup, horses.
People talk about the gay lifestyle, and I am never quite sure what that is, our lifestyle is all about our horses. The news that Jenny was pregnant was all it took for us to see most of our dreams to come true! We had the same anxiety that all parents have about this big milestone in our lives, how will our lives change? Will we be good parents? Plus we wondered how our small town neighbors would see our family. We choose a theme for the baby’s room, gasped in awe at the first ultrasound images and made the hundreds of choices needed for a baby shower registry. We were blown away by the warmth and generosity of our friends, coworkers and neighbors. We were treated with warmth and caring by our OB/Gyn. Consulting with trusted experienced parents, we selected a great pediatrician. After waiting so long to get pregnant, the pregnancy blew by so fast.
We live in Virginia, and we knew the law here doesn’t allow for second-parent adoption, and would not support our new little family. Despite all my love, despite my financial support, despite all our intentions, my daughter would be born a legal stranger, without my name on her birth certificate. As if one of her parents was invisible. Early in the pregnancy, or maybe even before it, we learned of an alternative, we could travel to nearby Washington, DC to give birth, and that would allow our daughter to suddenly have two parents on the birth certificate. Same family, 50 miles drive, and suddenly a legal bond changes. It sounded so simple, just drive to DC! Well anyone who lives around here can tell you that the drive is rarely simple. This is one of the worst traffic areas in North America, I was worried enough about getting to the local hospital on country roads if Jenny went into labor while I was working, what would happen if we had to get to DC? What if labor progressed while traffic did not? We sure would not feel like very good parents if something went wrong and our baby was harmed because she born on the side of the road. Ok, so what if we just got a hotel in DC and waited for delivery? Well, that looked very expensive– time away from work, hotel costs, out of network doctors, and we have to pay someone to do all the things we normally do in the farm. And we would have to use unfamiliar doctors and deal with the stress of being country lovers in an urban environment. Why do we have to make those choices?
In the end the risk and the cost were too much to go to DC. We were treated warmly at the local hospital, where our friends could be around us for support. We brought our new daughter, Clara, home to meet the horses, dogs and cats that she loves so much. Clara is two years old now, and she knows she has two mommies that love her and would do anything for her. I hope one day Virginia’s law will reflect that too, by allowing for second-parent adoptions to take place.
After being home with our two baby girls, Lily and Mia for almost two months, it’s hard to feel anything other than total elation. We were dreaming about this for so long, wondering how it could all work out, and now our twin baby girls are here. While a little bit tired, we are overjoyed! The stress of our trip to D.C. and lack of sleep, and the confusion that came with our newfound motherhood are all so minor compared to the overwhelming joy that our babies have brought us. Our family is perfectly healthy and happy. Our support system of friends, family and neighbors has been more compassionate and caring than we ever could have imagined. This part of our adventure is just beginning, but the story of deciding to be lesbian parents in Virginia started long before we traveled to D.C. last month where my wife, Desiree, gave birth.
I am so grateful we could deliver in D.C., and looking back, I realize how lucky we were. Though we were ready for the preparation, costs, and risks that would come with the drive to DC, we almost didn’t make it. Our doctors thought Desiree might have preeclampsia, and we spent hours at the hospital in Richmond receiving different opinions about being able to travel in her condition. We left as soon as we were cleared. We arrived at Sibley Memorial Hospital in D.C., were greeted by a very welcoming staff, and stayed the night in the hospital. The following afternoon, our girls were born.
We committed to the risks and the costs because, for us, it was a step we could take to protect our girls. When all is said and done we will have paid nearly $10,000 in travel, attorney’s fees and the two adoptions; not to mention the emotional cost of being away from our friends and family, with an unfamiliar hospital and doctor, more than two hours from home. But the return from those costs is even greater: our girls will have both of us as their legal parents.
We didn’t choose to leave Virginia so I could be recognized as their parent on paper. It is so much more than that. It was to protect the basic rights of our daughters, so they can grow up in a family that is as secure as those around us. It was so if I die, they will have access to my social security benefits. It was so in case we encounter less-than-friendly doctors or school officials that both Desiree and I have the responsibilities of legal parents – and the paperwork to prove it.
If Virginia recognized second parent adoptions, I could have had all the rights of a parent without having to leave the commonwealth. Desiree could have given birth to Lily and Mia at home, like anyone else. We could have driven down the road to the hospital, our friends and family would have been nearby. Right now, the laws in Virginia create different classes of families, even within lesbian couples: those who give birth in DC, and those who don’t, either by choice or by circumstance.
Desiree and I feel very fortunate to have been able to afford the costs to be recognized as legal parents of two beautiful baby girls, and are thankful to be assured of their secure future with the protections they now have. Our hearts go out to the families that aren’t yet recognized by Virginia as parents, but we know that those moms and dads are just as worthy of that title. One day, Virginia will too.