By Desi Rubio, Feb. 26, 2015.

Arizona’s 2014 marriage equality ruling propelled countless same-sex couples to the courts to legalize their relationships.

And, as the saying goes, “then comes baby in a baby carriage.” However, there are still many unanswered questions regarding the legal protections for other aspects in a newly married couple’s life when it comes to building a family.

For some couples, parenthood came long before marriage equality. For others, they’ve put the idea of family on hold fearing unequal parental rights of the child.

Regardless of the scenario specifics, Oct. 17, 2014, marked a shift that left same-sex parent and parents-to-be asking, “what does this mean for our family?”

While no two families within our diverse community, we’ve compiled resources that address adoption and foster care to start the conversation.

The Adoption Option

According to Valley agency Aid to Adoption of Special Kids (AASK), the number of children entering Arizona’s Department of Child Safety has doubled over the past 10 years.

This growing number underscores the option of considering adoption in the planning of their family, even for same-sex couples.

“There are 16,000 children in foster care here in Maricopa County, and half of that 16,000 number are children under the age of five,” said Marcia Reck, Child Crisis Center’s Adoption & Foster Care Services director. “Kids are spending the night in their case workers offices and they’re constantly being shuffled between homes and shelters, so the need is high.”

Potential parents can either choose to foster a child, providing a temporary home with the goal to reunite the child with the biological family, or adopt, providing a permanent family and home for the child.

Prior to the marriage equality ruling, adoption agencies throughout the Valley were already in support of placing children in a same-sex parental household however; there are still some legal nuances.

According to Russ Funk, director of marketing and recruitment for Aid to Adoption of Special Kids (AASK), the variance in adoption scenarios can be influenced by many factors.

“Our whole focus is finding that family relationship with that child and that doesn’t necessarily depend on anybody’s sexual orientation,” Funk said. “Families can come in all shapes, sizes and make-ups, at the end of the day we just want what is best for the child.”

The duration of the adoption process can depend on how quickly the paperwork is submitted as well as the age, gender, race and other details of the child desired.

The Letter of the Law

The legal stipulations around adoption do not stem from acceptance or possible placements, they stem from one particular statute in the Arizona Legislature. Arizona State Legislature, statue 8-103 states:

[A. Any adult resident of the state, whether married, unmarried or legally separated is eligible to qualify to adopt children. A husband and wife may jointly adopt children.]

The good news is any resident can adopt; the bad news is only a husband and wife may jointly adopt.

There’s the snag. For married same-sex couples, it may be difficult to execute the “husband-wife” clause. So, on the contrary, one partner may get licensed to adopt however, the chance for both partners to adopt at the same time still presents a challenge.

“It all depends on the judge who will preside over the adoption,” said attorney Lon Taubman of Taubman & Associates. “If the judge is someone who will not be concerned with the term ‘husband and wife’ then the commissioner will allow the adoption to go through.”

Another issue attorneys commonly observe regarding same-sex adoption in Arizona occurs during the finalization of the adoption process. In Maricopa County, birth certificates still read “mother and father.”

Since marriage equality is still so new in Arizona, city officials would need to assess a model state for equal rights, such as California, to make appropriate adjustments to all applicable documents.

As for the couples that were co-parenting prior before their marriage was legally recognized, and are now seeking second-parent adoption, there is another option.

“Although the state is making changes because of the recent marriage equality law, in the past, if only one spouse decided to adopt, and once they became legally married, the other spouse would try to do a ‘step-parent marriage,’” Reck explained. “They would simply need to hire an attorney, and technically, this process should apply to same-sex couples as well.

While Arizona’s trajectory is headed in the right direction, there is still some lag time between marriage equality and all the benefits that are widely understood to accompany it.

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