Meet The Parents — On The Frontline of Marriage Equality Fight

By Trudy Ring

Originally published on Advocate.com June 16 2014 7:00 AM ET

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. 

Andrea Altmayer and Shelia Robertson, Idaho
Andrea Altmayer (left) and Shelia Robertson of Boise, Idaho, with their son. Robertson is a teacher of deaf children and a sign language interpreter; Altmayer is a massage therapist. When the challenge to Idaho’s marriage ban was heard in federal court last month, Robertson wept during the proceedings. “We have a 4-year-old son together,” she explained afterward to Spokane, Wash.’s Spokesman-Review. “We’ve been together for 16 years, and it took us a long time, it was a very careful decision for us to have our boy. We love our boy. … The fact that I don’t have any rights to him at all – it’s frightening every day.” Judge Candy Dale struck down the ban, but her ruling is being appealed, so Idaho same-sex couples still have to wait to marry.

 

Matthew Mansell and Johno Espejo, Tennessee
Matthew Mansell (left) and Johno Espeso of Franklin, Tenn., with their daughter and son. They were one of the first Tennessee same-sex couples ot have their marriage recognized by the state, thanks to a federal judge’s March ruling that Tennessee must recognize the out-of-state marriages of the three same-sex couples who brought a suit for recognition — but the fate of other same-sex marriages in Tennessee has not been decided. "I know some people have difficulty with us using the word 'marriage,' but that's what it is," Mansell, who married Espejo in California in 2008, told The Tennessean recently. "We do exactly the same things as everyone else does. We teach our kids to ride bikes, we mow the lawn, we do laundry, we argue about money. It's no different from what my parents did or what my sister has done for 32 years."

Juan Carlos Rodriguez and David Price, Florida
Juan Carlos Rodriguez (left) and David Price of Davie, Fla., with their twins, Sofia and Christian. Rodriguez is a physician specializing in pulmonary medicine, and Price manages his partner's medical practice. The men have been together 18 years. “David and I are devoted to our children,” Rodriguez said in a press release announcing the Florida suit. “We are a family in every way, except that Florida will not allow us to marry. Being a doctor, I see people and families in crisis all the time. In those situations, family and the legal protections that come with it are critical. It pains David and me to be denied a basic safety net of legal protections.”

 

Traci Ehlers and Sue Latta, Idaho
Idaho plaintiffs Traci Ehlers (far left), a small-business owner, and Sue Latta (second from left), an artist and teacher, have two adult children and two grandchildren. The women, who live in Boise, were married in California in 2008. "Especially as Traci and I get older, it frightens me that we do not have the same legal protections and respect that other married couples take for granted in the event that one of us becomes ill or dies," Latta said when the suit was announced. "We are legally married, and we would simply like the state of Idaho to respect our marriage just as it does those of opposite-sex couples."

Sharene and Lori Watsen, Idaho
Sharene (left) and Lori Watsen of Boise with their son. Lori is a licensed clinical social worker and associate field director for Boise State University’s School of Social Work, and Sharene is a physician's assistant. They were married in New York in 2011. "We are two dedicated, loving parents who have made work and other life changes to be able to provide our son a loving, safe home, but Idaho does not recognize me as his legal parent, so I have no official status in his life," Lori Watsen said upon the filing of the Idaho suit.

 

Bill Hurtubise and Dean Palmer, Wisconsin
Bill Hurtubise and Dean Palmer of Racine want the security marriage will provide in allowing them both to be adoptive parents of their three children, ages 3, 4, and 5. "We're like any other normal family in Wisconsin," said Palmer. "We pay our taxes, we take our kids to dance class and sports practice, we fall asleep the second the kids go to bed. We shouldn't be treated any differently by the state." Well, one way in which they're different from most families: Hurtubise commutes four hours a day to work in Chicago so the kids can grow up in his hometown of Racine, close to friends, extended family, and their church.

 

Caren and Farrell Cafferata-Jenkins, Nevada
Caren (left) and Farrell Cafferata-Jenkins with sons Dean and Quinn. The women, who live in Carson City, are registered domestic partners in Nevada and married in California in 2008, but when they returned home, they felt the state "un-married" them, so they became plaintiffs in the suit challenging Nevada's marriage ban. "The document you get when you register as a domestic partner is identical to the document you get when you register an LLC [limited liability corporation]," Caren told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. "The state is recognizing a financial relationship between people. Marriage commemorates the public recognition of your relationship." The women, who have been together for 16 years, had a commitment ceremony in 2002, and the 2004 short film My Sister, My Bride documents this ceremony and their activism. Caren, a lawyer,  has served as executive director of the Nevada Commission on Ethics and is running for a Family Court judgeship in Washoe County; she will face incumbent Chuck Weller in November. Farrell is an instructor at the Nevada Academy of Sign Language.

 

Victoria Kidd and Christy Berghoff, Virginia
Victoria Kidd (left) and Christy Berghoff with daughter Lydia. They live in Winchester. Va. The women were married in Washington, D.C.,  in 2011, but Virginia does not recognize their union; they are plaintiffs in the suit seeking the right to marry for Virginia same-sex couples, which was heard in federal appeals court last month. The women have been together for a decade. “As soon as I met Christy I never looked back,” Kidd recalled in an interview for Lambda Legal's blog. Berghoff has worked for the Department of Justice in information technology for several years, and Kidd runs a home-based business doing career coaching and résumé writing, which allows her time to also be stay-at-home-mom to Lydia. In the blog an interview, they recalled an upsetting situation at the time of Lydia's birth. The nurse who was on duty the night Berghoff gave birth made it clear she was uncomfortable serving a same-sex couple, and she was rude and condescending in every interaction. The women believe a heterosexual couple would have received better treatment, and they are concerned about how the law will treat them as well. Kidd had to go to court to be named Lydia's legal co-custodian, but this designation does not make her a legal parent, and the women worry about whether it will be recognized in a medical emergency.

Shelton Stroman and Christopher Inness, Georgia
Shelton Stroman (left) and Christopher Inness with son Jonathan. The family lives in of Snellville, near Atlanta; Inness is a veterinarian and Stroman manages the Snellville Pet Resort, a business the men own together. “I think that my dads should be able to get married because they’re basically not different from anybody else,” Jonathan, whom they adopted shortly after his birth, told Georgia's Gwinnett Daily Post. “They can do the same things, and they are able to have the same jobs. They can do anything they want in life.”


Glenn Funkhouser and Henry Greene, Indiana
Glenn Funkhouser (left) and Henry Greene with their 12-year-old son, C.A.G. The family lives in Carmel, Ind.; Funkhouser and Greene have been together for 22 years. They are plaintiffs in the suit challenging Indiana's ban on same-sex marriage, and they say they want the legal protections marriage will give their son. They say it will also help him to grow up with dignity and pride in his family.

 

Jane Fenton and Nancy Michael, West Virginia
Jane Fenton (left) and Nancy Michael of St. Albans, W.Va., with son Drew. The women own an information technology consulting business together. They also volunteer regularly at Drew's elementary school, the same one Michael attended. Only she is listed as his mother on his birth certificate, and they have had to make other legal arrangements to document Fenton's place in his life, but she still is not legally recognized as his mother. "Jane and I and Drew have traditional family values," Michael said at the press conference announcing the West Virginia marriage suit. Added Fenton: "I'm not a rabble-rouser. I just want to be a wife and mother."

Jennifer Hoefle Olson and Kelli Olson, Arizona
Jennifer Hoefle Olson (left) and Kelli Olson of Tucson with their twin daughters, who were born in 2012. Hoefle Olson is program director for LGBTQ Affairs at the University of Arizona, and Olson is a lawyer. They met in 2004 and had a commitment ceremony on New Year's Eve of 2009, followed by a marriage in Minnesota in 2013, which is not recognized in Arizona. Hoefle Olson is the birth mother of the twins, and Olson has to carry power of attorney documents with her in case she has to make any medical decisions for them. There's always the chance, though, that a health care provider will refuse to accept these documents, so the women are seeking the security that legal recognition of their marriage would bring, and they are plaintiffs in the Arizona suit. “Marriage has taken on a whole new meaning for us, just wanting to protect our family, like everyone does,” Olson told Arizona Public Media last year.

Vicente Talanquer and Kent Burbank, Arizona
Vicente Talanquer (far left) and Kent Burbank (second from right) of Tucson with their sons, Daniel and Martin. Talanquer is an associate professor of chemistry at the University of Arizona, and Burbank is director of victim services at the Pima County Attorney's office. They adopted their sons, who had been in foster care, in 2009. Arizona law allows only one of them legal status as an adoptive parent; with the flip of a coin, they decided that would be Talanquer. The men married in Iowa in 2013, hoping that would allow both of them legal status as parents, but Arizona does not recognize the validity of that marriage. "I have zero relationship to [the boys] legally," Burbank told The Des Moines Register. When he travels with the children and without his husband, he carries letters from Talanquer explaining his relationship with the boys. And if Talanquer were to lose his job, Burbank would not be allowed to put Daniel and Martin on his health insurance plan. Those are among the reasons they joined the Arizona lawsuit. "I will not give up until my kids are protected," Burbank told the Register.