Some Va. laws, including adoption, unclear after same-sex marriages begin

Posted at 7:16 PM, Oct 07, 2014
and last updated 2014-10-07 19:16:27-04

RICHMOND, Va -- The U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way Monday for legal same-sex marriages in five more states, including Virginia.

This new expanded marriage right also allows both parents to be named legal guardian of a child they parent -- through birth or adoption.

Under Virginia law, single people of any orientation are allowed to adopt but only married couples can jointly adopt.  If a same sex couple wanted to adopt a child before this week, only one parent could be the legal guardian.

"I am going to adopt my son," Shirley Lesser said after marrying her longtime partner India Monday.

"The responsibility for his care should fall on both his parents," Lesser said with tears in her eyes.

Tuesday however it became clear adoption agencies and courts were unsure how to precede.

A clerk with Chesterfield county said that paperwork has not been updated and guidelines have not been issued by the state.

"We are waiting from licensing on how to proceed," Faith Kallman with Jewish Family Services said.

Kallman's organization has assisted same sex couples in adopting in the past, however they could only make one parent the legal guardian under Virginia law.

Other complications that could arise include the terms "man" and "woman" or "husband" and "wife," which are currently listed in the adoption law statutes.

Family attorney Charles Powers says it will be up to judges to determine if that language is interpreted literally or not.

"I think the obstacles will include people who are slow to understand what this means," Powers said.

A bigger issue may be agencies who decide not to allow gay couples to jointly adopt.

Under a Virginia statute passed and signed by former Governor Bob McDonnell in 2012, the "conscience clause" allows for religious adoption agencies to decline adoption services if homosexuality goes against their mission.

"A child placing agency can't be forced to if they don't want to recognize a same sex couple," Powers said.

The following statement was issued by Virginia's Department of Social Services:

"Virginia is still in the process of reviewing the gay marriage ruling and any impact this may have on the adoptive process in Virginia. In Virginia, §63.2-1225 of the Code of Virginia, provides for an appropriate adoptive home to be a married couple or an unmarried individual. The gay marriage ruling has not changed the requirements in the Code for an appropriate adoptive home."