First comes love, then comes marriage. Now adoption lawyers and agencies in New York say they're getting ready for a baby boom as same-sex couples emboldened by the state's new gay marriage law take the next step and try to adopt children.
New York will allow same-sex marriages beginning July 24, becoming the most populous state to legalize such weddings. Thousands of couples are expected to tie the knot.
The state already permits unmarried couples, both gay and straight, to adopt children. But a wedding ring is an important milestone in a relationship — and can also bolster a couple's case as they try to impress social workers, adoption agencies and birth mothers during the often competitive adoption process, couples and adoption experts say.
"It's sort of the next natural progression," said Jonathan Truong of Brooklyn, who decided to adopt a boy after marrying his longtime partner, Ed Cowen, in Canada. "You have that feeling of wanting to be in a family."
Experts won't know for sure whether adoptions have increased in the five other states, plus Washington, D.C., that have legalized gay marriage until the results of the 2010 census are released this year, said Gary Gates, a demographer at the Williams Institute, a think tank at the University of California-Los Angeles.
But nationwide, about 19,000 gay couples had adopted children as of 2009, he said. That's up from 10,700 couples in 2000 — the same year Vermont began offering civil unions and four years before Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage.
"I think they will feel more entitled to be a family under the new law," said Susan Watson, director of U.S. adoptions at the Spence-Chapin adoption agency in Manhattan.
The prospect has alarmed conservative religious groups that consider same-sex relationships and parenting immoral.
"Sanctioning such unions as 'marriages' only makes the violation worse; and adding children to the mix, worse still," said Avi Shafran, a spokesman for the Agudath Israel of America, an Orthodox Jewish group.
Rumaan Alam, 33, and David Land, 37, of Brooklyn, adopted their son, Simon, soon after getting married in California in 2008. The state banned such marriages just five months after they were legalized.
Alam said they plan to get married again in New York for the benefit of their nearly 2-year-old son.
"He's going to go to school and know that he doesn't have a mommy and a daddy like other kids," Alam said. "We think it's something important for him being able to say, 'Well, at least my Dad and my Papa are married the way that everyone else's parents are.'"
For lesbian couples, the road to parenthood is relatively easy. All that's needed is a sperm donor or a cooperative male friend who will agree to terminate parental rights when the baby is born. The other partner then adopts her partner's child through a "second-parent" adoption.
The new marriage statute will make the second-parent adoption unnecessary under New York law. But most adoption lawyers are recommending that parents do it anyway to protect themselves if they travel or move to a state that doesn't recognize gay marriage.
"The state where you're vacationing may not see things the same way," said Nina Rumbold, an adoption lawyer.