The state legislature could clarify the adoption law to exclude gay couples. But the more likely scenario, given the Democrat-controlled General Assembly, might be an appellate decision denying the right of same-sex couples to adopt.

Kaplan, for one, hopes no same-sex couple feel they need to go forward with an appeal, which could upset the status quo: "I like the way it has been going."

Friedman agreed. "I'm very pleased to have been a part of a change in the court's thinking," she said. "But it's still a controversial issue."

Legal frustrations remain

After his adoption proceeding last month, Jamie McCoy-Dennis squealed and grabbed at Baltimore City Circuit Judge Videtta A. Brown, who was taking away his pacifier to ready him for a courtroom picture with his moms.

"The judge came out and met us and met the baby," mother McCoy gushed after the session adjourned.

Knowing in advance that Brown would not deny their petition because of their sexual orientation made the adoption process less stressful, said Dennis, the other mother.

Every year the mothers plan to celebrate Jamie's birthday and his "gotcha" day, the day they got him from their adoption agency. It took just over a year for Jamie's adoption to be finalized in Baltimore's family court.

"That first day, that day after we got home from court, I was saying to him, 'Jamie, everything is different now,'" said McCoy. "But he kept playing the same games, with the same toys. For him, nothing is different."

Brenda Murphy, who adopted the biological children of her partner, Christa Craven, on that day in court, said it seemed unfair that she had to jump through legal hoops to gain parental rights over the children she has considered her own since they were conceived. The couple has made all decisions about having and raising children together, she said.

"I'm really grateful I have this opportunity, but I'm also really angry that I even have to go through with this," Murphy said.

The children, Rosalie and Braxton, were born in Ohio, where adoption by gay couples is not permitted. The family moved to Maryland in part to protect their family. If they move out of state, there's no guarantee that Murphy's parental rights, granted in Baltimore, will be respected.

States typically recognize adoptions approved in other states, but some same-sex couples who have left states where their adoptions were granted have encountered courts unwilling to treat their adoptions as legally binding, according to lawyers who have worked on such cases. For instance, if Craven and Murphy were to split up, a court could refuse to recognize Murphy as the mother and grant full custody to Craven.

Despite the adoptions, the couples expressed frustration that Maryland law still doesn't grant full legal recognition to their families. For instance, McCoy would have liked to be a stay-at-home mom during Jamie's toddler years, but they can't afford to lose her health insurance. McCoy and Dennis work for the Baltimore County Public Library system, which does not offer domestic partner benefits.

Moreover, while their legal ties to Jamie are clear, they can't make their own union legal in Maryland.

As McCoy read the inscription on their matching rings, she made clear that they "are not actual wedding bands."

steve.kilar@baltsun.com

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