Opponents of marriage equality love to say their position is based in concern for children. They invoke the mantra that every child deserves a mother and a father – and, of course, they see parenting in terms of rigid gender roles, so heaven forbid that a child be raised by two parents of the same sex or, for that matter, a single parent.
But the fact is, many same-sex couples are parents (and their children are doing just fine, by the way), and many of these parents have joined in the lawsuits challenging bans on same-sex marriage around the nation. While childless couples need and deserve equal marriage rights as well, the marriage equality fight has a special resonance for parents. The couples featured in this photo essay can bear witness to some of the problems that arise when the law recognizes only one of them as a parent and considers the other a legal stranger to the children they both love.
A case in point: Bill Hurtubise and Leslie “Dean” Palmer of Racine, Wis., are raising three children together. Palmer has adopted two of the children through Wisconsin's foster care system, and Hurtubise is their legal guardian; both men are legal guardians to the third child, with plans to adopt. If they could marry, however, there would be a straightforward means to secure both men’s relationships with the children through adoption.
“We were basically posed with the question of ‘who wants which child,’” Hurtubise told The Journal Times of Racine. “The law clearly states you can adopt as a single person or a married person, but not as a couple in another sense. By the law allowing us to marry, we can get security.” The men are among the plaintiffs in the suit challenging Wisconsin's ban on same-sex marriage; the ban has been struck down by a federal judge, but her ruling is on appeal.
Another example: Sharene and Lori Watsen of Boise, Idaho, have a year-old son. Sharene is his birth mother, and the state recognizes only her as his legal parent, having rejected Lori’s petition to adopt him. So when Lori takes him to the doctor, she must have a medical power of attorney in hand, and she has to have access to it in case of any emergency. This document is only good for six months, so twice a year the women have to deal with the paperwork involved and have it notarized. The Watsens were married in New York in 2011, but Idaho doesn’t recognize their union. They are parties to the suit against Idaho’s marriage ban, which like Wisconsin's has been voided by a federal judge, but the state is appealing the decision.
“We’re not asking for anything special,” Sharene told Boise State Public Radio. “We’re just asking for basic rights that the majority of people can have if they choose to get married. And people don’t realize how many rights come with marriage.”
Meet these couples and others on the following pages. They’re a diverse lot geographically – spanning the nation from Florida to Idaho – and in other ways. They are represented by legal groups including the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Lambda Legal, and the American Civil Liberties Union, all of which provided photos for this feature.
Melanie and Vanessa Alenier, Florida
Melanie (left) and Vanessa Alenier successfully fought Florida’s ban on adoption by gays and lesbians in order to be parents to their son, Ethan, now 5; he was born to Vanessa’s aunt, who was unable to care for him. Now they’re challenging the state law that keeps them from marrying. Melanie is an insurance agent and Vanessa works for a company that provides services to trade shows and other special events. They have been together for eight years and live in Hollywood, a Miami suburb. "Melanie and I have worked so hard to build and protect our family, but nothing can come close to matching the protections that marriage provides," Vanessa told reporters when the Florida suit was filed in January.
Michael Bishop and Shane Thomas, Georgia
Michael Bishop (left) and Shane Thomas of Atlanta with children Mariella and Thomas. Bishop, a lawyer for AT&T, and Thomas, a real estate agent, adopted both children from birth mothers who wanted gay men to care for their babies. “When you hold that baby in your arms and you realize you’re a parent and that you have to protect that child, it really comes down to what we feel like are equal rights for us as parents,” Thomas told the Georgia Voice. “And we should have those rights as parents.”
Karla Arguello and Catherina Pareto, Florida
Karla Arguello (left) and Catherina Pareto of Miami with their son, Enzo. Pareto is a financial adviser, and Arguello left a corporate job to stay home with Enzo. The women have been together for 14 years. "Karla and I share a beautiful life together,'' Pareto said at a news conference announcing the Florida suit. "We have an amazing son together. We’ve built a successful business together. We share our finances together. We go to church together. We serve our community together. Our respective families have fully integrated. But in the eyes of the law, we are legal strangers."
Jeff and Todd Delmay, Florida
Jeff (left) and Todd Delmay of Hollywood, Fla., with their son, Blake. "We wanted our son to be born into a family that felt like every other family," Todd said at the press conference announcing the Florida lawsuit. Jeff and Todd have been together for 11 years, and they run a company, Delmay Corp., that handles hotel and other arrangements for conventions and similar large events.