|Jennifer Shearing and Julie Naff with their boys.|
When Julie and I decided to build our family through adoption in 2007, we knew we would need to complete a home study first. We called two local adoption agencies to find out how to get this process started. Upon finding out that we lived in Virginia, social workers at both agencies responded with, “Move to D.C. or Maryland!”
While complicated, either one of us could have legally adopted a child in Virginia as a single person, but we had been a couple for nearly 10 years at that point. In short, we could not even have our request for a home study granted to us then because we were a same-sex couple living together in Virginia.
Even if we did find a way to “untangle” our lives as a couple and go forward with a single-parent adoption, the other would not have had any parental/legal rights to that child, as Virginia does not allow second-parent adoption. To second-parent adopt in Virginia, you must be legally married. And, of course, Virginia does not recognize same-sex marriage.
Private adoption can be a difficult process for most people, but there just seemed to be more than our fair share of hoops to jump through! So we moved to Washington, D.C.
Moving 12 miles might not sound like a big deal, but we had owned a house in Northern Virginia since 2000. It was the place we called home. Our house was convenient to our jobs, my family, our friends, our favorite dog parks, etc. To afford this move out of state, we had to rent out our Virginia home for the next several years, become landlords, manage the property, commute longer distances to work, pay higher taxes on our income, etc. The only reason for the move: the District of Columbia would allow us to legally adopt children together.
Jumping through these hurdles paid off when our dream to become parents was realized in 2009, when our son, Daniel, was born – and again in 2011 with the birth of our son Liam. We have open-adoptions with their birth families in California. Our children’s birth parents chose us to adopt and parent our boys, yet Virginia laws stood in the way. Virginia’s laws stood in the way of a private, consensual decision made between adults.
After finalizing Liam’s adoption in 2011, we moved back to Virginia as a legally married couple (thank you , D.C!) and as a family of four, to the home and the community that we loved and missed. Having finalized our sons’ adoptions in California (where they were both born, and where we could petition the courts as out-of-state residents), both Julie’s and my name appear on their birth certificates as the legal parents of our children. This could have never happened in Virginia as the laws stand on second-parent adoption.
Virginia’s anti-gay laws disrupted our lives for several years, not to mention the cost of our adoption process skyrocketed with a move out-of-state.
I was born and raised in Virginia. I am a product of Virginia public schools. I am a proud public school teacher in Virginia. Julie and I want our children to grow up in a diverse environment with access to quality public schools. We are law-abiding citizens who pay taxes like any other resident/property owner in the state of Virginia. Shouldn’t we have the same rights as other Virginians?