The Davies household is like any other with small children and working parents at 5:30 p.m. — 10-month-old Caroline scoots across the floor; Kate, almost 3, looks frantically for her baby doll while their parents deal with dinner-making, dog-walking and bedtime-starting.
The Davies hope to become even more like most American families, thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court. Sarah Davies is the birth mother of Kate and Caroline. Her wife, Summer Davies, was at the children's birth and has co-parented them all of their short lives, but in the eyes of the law, she is only their guardian. To get that right, she had to sue her wife in court.
Until June 26, the Davies' marriage, which took place in Washington, D.C., in 2011, was not recognized in Kentucky. And in Kentucky, a same-sex partner could not adopt their partner's baby. In addition, a same-sex couple could not together adopt a child; only one person could adopt, while the other was a guardian or had power of attorney status for school and medical decisions.
Now that the Supreme Court has legalized same-sex marriage, all that is about to change. The Davies have already filed a petition for Summer to adopt the children as a step-parent. They hope someday Kentucky's laws will change enough to put a same-sex spouse on a birth certificate, which has not been allowed.
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For now there is relief.
"If something had happened to me, without some of these protections in place," Sarah Davies pointed out, "the kids could have been taken away."
Kentucky state officials are still working out exactly how the Supreme Court ruling will affect the morass of rules, regulations, rights and responsibilities that come with marriage, but for many couples, nothing is more important than adoption.
Like the Davies, the Yates family has two children. Ashley Yates gave birth to a girl and a boy, and her wife, Allyson, had to sue in court for guardianship.
"That is not the same as being a parent," Ashley Yates said. "The only way for her to have full parental rights was for me to give up my rights, which was not ideal."
In the worst-case scenario, if something had happened to Ashley Yates, some other relative could have sued to take the children away from Allyson. Less drastic ways include the many things a parent can do, such as leave an inheritance to a child without inheritance tax.
Lexington attorney Ross Ewing is a family law expert who has advised the Yates and Davies families to start the step-parent adoption process now. "I decided we could not wait for the state to issue its forms," he said.
The current regulations refer to married and single people only and will not need to be changed, said Anya Weber, spokeswoman for the Department of Community Based Services in the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, which oversees foster care and adoption.
Before June 26, the department approved both single and married individuals who meet the qualifications to become foster or adoptive parents. Now same-sex couples who are married will simply be included in that definition.
"The change made by the recent Supreme Court ruling, which legalized same-sex marriages, will allow same-sex married individuals to apply as a married couple and not as two separate individuals applying as single parents," Weber said. "Prior to the ruling, one parent petitioned the court to adopt the child because two unmarried individuals were not permitted by Kentucky law to adopt a child together."
Nor should there be any barriers for same-sex spouses to adopt the biological child of a spouse through a step-parent adoption.
The department will have to update standards of practice and forms to utilize the term "parent" rather than "mother" and "father," as the gender specific terminology is no longer appropriate, Weber said.
Ewing noted that some hassles could be avoided if the General Assembly would update its maternity, paternity and parentage laws, which have not been overhauled since 1973.
But legislators are currently grappling with the political fallout from county clerks who don't want to issue same-sex marriage licenses. When asked about the issue, House Speaker Greg Stumbo said states need to look at their laws "to see what changes might need to be made to comply with federal law. States need to act quickly so that there is certainty and consistency in the application of the new law."
(Stumbo also favors a special session to resolve the county clerk impasse.)
Regardless of whether state law changes, the new federal ruling will change things for many families in Kentucky.
Dennis Stutsman and Edward Clark were married in Washington, D.C. in 2013, and have fostered a family of five siblings. On June 15, Clark adopted three of the children.
"We just went through an adoption where only he could adopt and now we're going to have to pay the same fees twice for me to be able to adopt the three kids we've been parenting together for the past four years," Stutsman said. "Maybe when the other two kids get to the adoption stage, we can adopt them as a couple."
Still, there's relief for the basic protections the kids will now have, such as Stutsman's social security benefits, which can now be applied to Clark and possibly the children.
"Now the whole panoply of federal protections for families are now going to fully apply for us," he said.
The Davies estimate they've spent more than $20,000 on lawyers and other fees associated with adoption that opposite sex couples have not faced. That's not even mentioning the costs of filing two sets of taxes, once as a married couple on federal forms and then separately for the state.
"But now what we hope is that we're giving the kids the security of me being able to adopt them before they're old enough to understand that I didn't have that status all along," Summer Davies said.