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My two moms can beat up your eight wives: a marriage update

15 Feb

DSC_0418Since there’s a lot going on, I thought it might be time for a little update on what’s going on in the big gay world.

ILLIONOIS – Yesterday, the Illionois Senate approved marriage overwhelmingly with a vote of 34-21! Happy Valentine’s Day! Support is expected to be thinner but still winnable in the House and we don’t yet know when it will be taken up. Governor Pat Quinn has pledged to sign it into law should the House pass it. YAY!

RHODE ISLAND – About 3 weeks ago, the RI House approved marriage even more overwhelmingly with a 51-19 vote. The Senate is a bit of an uphill battle but certainly not unwinnable. They are looking at a Spring vote and again the Governor is a huge supporter.

OHIO – Currently collecting signatures for a pro-equality ballot measure in 2013

-ARIZONA, MICHIGAN & OREON – Currently collecting signatures for a pro-equality ballot measure in 2014

-MINNESOTA  – Following the beatdown of an anti-gay marriage ballot measure in 2012, and a pwnership of the house, senate and the election of awesome pro-equality Governor Mark Dayton, advocates are pushing for a pro-equality bill in the next few months.

One of these states will most likely be state #10 to (not including the unstate of DC) to approve marriage equality.

SCOTUS! (Supreme Court of the United States) March 26th, SCOTUS will be hearing oral arguments on two marriage cases. The first is on CA’s Prop 8. (Perry)

Possible outcomes of Prop 8 decisions: 

All gay marriage bans will be struck down: This is not a likely scenario, but would make me very happy. Our lawyers are arguing to make this happen by pointing out the unconstitutionality of anti-gay marriage bans and the creation of different classes of citizens federally.

Prop 8. will be overturned: This is what most pundits are thinking will happen. It will overturn the discriminatory law and once again allow gay and lesbian Californians to marry in that state only. CA is different from other states because the courts legalized marriage in May of 2008. From May through November (prior to Prop 8 passing), more than 30,000 gay and lesbian Californians were married. This means, there are three separate classes in CA. Heterosexuals who can legally marry, Gays and Lesbians who are legally married and Gays and Lesbians who are prohibited from marrying. This is a good basis for overturning the ban and some think this is the argument the court will use to do so.

Prop 8 will be upheld: Many think this is unlikely considering the proponents of Prop 8 have no legitimate argument outside of “this is how the people voted.” Every court thus far has overturned or upheld the decision of the previous ruling.

SCOTUS will punt: One of the questions presented by the court was whether or not those defending the anti-gay law had the right to defend it in court. The Brown administration and the one before him had both pulled out of defending Prop 8 because they found it to be discriminatory. After that, the anti-gay campaign began defending it in court. Some don’t believe that a biased campaign has the right to defend a state law in court. If SCOTUS punts, then two things could happen, the decisions of the earlier courts could be upheld or they could essentially issue a do-over.

On March 27th (the next day), SCOTUS will be hearing oral arguments on the constitutionality of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). As many of you know, as a side note – Obama’s DoJ stopped defending DOMA a few years ago as on 8 separate occasions now, when the government was sued over DOMA, it has been found unconstitutional – so there’s a bit of precedent here. It’s also clearly a waste of money to defend a clearly unconstitutional law. Yet John Boehner has just increased to $2 million the amount of money they will spend towards lawyers to defend DOMA…yet they keep screaming that we spend too much on frivolous things.

But I digress…

The reason most courts have found DOMA to be unconstitutional is that it violates state’s rights. Legally married gay couples in states that recognize equality are not afforded more than 1100 rights and responsibilities given to heterosexual couples granted by the federal government. This includes everything from federal tax benefits, to citizenship. If I were to marry a man from Argentina – legally, let’s say in DC – they could still be deported because of DOMA. If I (a very gay man) were to marry a woman from Argentina, that marriage would give her the opportunity to apply (and win) US citizenship.

Edie Windos, lead plaintiff in the Supreme Court DOMA cases

Edie Windos, lead plaintiff in the Supreme Court DOMA cases

Possible outcomes of DOMA decisions:

DOMA is struck down: The court could decide that Section 3 of DOMA (that which defines marriage as being only between a man and a woman) violates state’s rights and the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection for all under the law.

DOMA is upheld: The court could uphold DOMA which would enshrine two classes of citizen where one class is treated differently under federal law than the other. Legally married gay couples would continue to not receive tax and social security survivor benefits. Another side note: 17 year – Congressman Gerry Studds, the first openly-gay member of Congress, was legally married to his partner of 16 years Dean Hara. When Studds died in 2006, Hara was not elegible to receive spousal survivor benefits and pension afforded every other Congressional spouse.

SCOTUS punts: Due to the aforementioned discrepancies with who is defending this law, the court could dismiss the case on procedural grounds. It would of course, find it’s way back to the Supreme Court eventually, but this would make it so they didn’t have to make a potentially unpopular opinion.

There are actions happening all over the country for you to get involved with. Everything from vigils to lobby days to house parties. Go find out what’s going on near you or plan something and let us know about it at Light to Justice or visit the March4Marriage Facebook page.

In the meantime, might I recommend the film Edie & Thea: A Very Long Engagement (also available on Netflix). It’s a story about Edie Windsor and her wife, Thea. Edie is the lead plaintiff in the upcoming DOMA cases coming before the Supreme Court.

The Giving Tree: Family Week in Provincetown Day 5

2 Aug

I’m trying to figure out why I’m calling this day The Giving Tree. It’s obviously one of my favorite children’s stories and I’m a fan of pretty much everything Shel Silverstein wrote. I also look at the story as a euphemism for parenting.

This morning, my day started with an emotionally-charged panel featuring kids from Family Equality Council’s “Outspoken Generation.” 7 teen children of LGBT parents were on the panel and it was one of the most heavily-attended events I’d seen all week. The room was packed to overflowing and Dr. Kim Bergman moderated the event. While one of the main draws of the event was Youtube star and author Zach Wahls, all the kids had really poignant and important things to say.

With the recent (and quickly debunked) study from Mark Regnerus has provided a springboard for misinformationists to spread lies and falsehoods about our families. But with these young men and women on the scene, a firsthand experience of being raised by LGBT parents can be told. I’m hoping Family Equality Council lifts up this vital program that’s currently missing from the national dialogue. Every one of the young people on the panel today should be appearing on television wherever we can put them.

Following the panel, Sean and I had scheduled time for some wedding planning and wound up at a tasting at one of the locations we’re thinking of. It seems we have a lot more work to do, but that just means another trip to Ptown this fall! I was also really happy friends Amy, Ty and (an asleep) Declan joined us for a little stroll as well. Wedding advice is always helpful!

The late afternoon and evening activities included a screening of The Muppets, a happy hour for Transgender parents and then a fundraiser comedy night starring Kate Clinton. All were extraordinarily well-attended and Kate’s show was so packed, I got booted from the theatre, so I couldn’t take the photos I was asked to. It looks like Family Equality is having quite a successful week!

The night closed with some drinks with the now-legal Zach Wahls and then a run-in with some old friends from New York. I’m glad the rain seems to be gone as it was one of the most beautiful nights I’ve seen in a long time!

The Very Hungry Caterpillar: Family Week Day 4

1 Aug

What a day!! There are so many incredible families here. I think probably twice as many as there were last year. It all reminds me of being on Rosie O’Donnell’s R Family Cruise when it was brand new. Seeing so many dads and moms and these kids that nearly every one of them had to fight for. I believe there’s something to be said for that.

How many straight parents can say they had to fight to have their children? Of course there are many, but I don’t know of a single case where a gay or lesbian couple was able to fall into parenting. They all either adopted, worked with a surrogate, had to deal with artificial insemination, or even if they had kids from a previous heterosexual relationship, many live in places where their spouse still isn’t the legal parent of their child. I’m sure there are cases out there where everything worked out swimmingly, but the vast majority of gay parents had to/has to fight to be a parent. I’ve never heard of a gay or lesbian couple having a child by accident. Every one of these kids is wanted, loved and it shows.

This morning, I went back to take some more shots with the Littles. A whole lot more bouncy house time, some bouncy slide time, facepainting, temporary tattoos and pure joy everywhere. I followed that up with a trip to Kidapalooza where everyone was tie-dying t-shirts (or legs and arms if you ask Riane from Family Equality). I stopped to support Cape Cod’s PFLAG group and pick up a gorgeous rainbow sweater for Eli – pictures of that will follow once we return home.

In the afternoon, I got a surprise text from my extraordinarily pregnant friend Amy. She’s amazing and one of my besties from high school. She and her husband Ty and adorable boy Declan were in town for the day and wanted to grab a bite. I was happy to have a little break where I could join them!

Then came the bonfire. Now as history tells it, we’ve never (or at least very infrequently) had a bonfire night that wasn’t at least a little rainy. Last year it drizzled a bit throughout, but I don’t recall it being all that bad. And as of this past weekend, things looked pretty good. No showers in the forecast. But then apparently, someone must have told whoever’s in charge that it was bonfire night. And the rain came. Now the bonfire and s’more-making (with a generous donation from Hershey’s) happens to be the obsession love of Family Equality Council’s Executive Director, Jennifer Chrisler. Unfortunately I’d heard Jenn wasn’t going to be coming to Family Week this year due to the very recent birth of her third little boy, Matthew. But there were then rumblings that she would be here on Wednesday. Why would she come on Wednesday? The day AFTER her beloved bonfire and s’mores??

The bonfires were set-up, with holes dug and fire started by my very own Beyoncé, Family Equality Council’s New Media Manager Sean Carlson. The misty rain was annoying and it was overcast, but it looked like it maybe possibly perhaps could clear up. And it did, briefly anyway. Then in came the families. I was in shock. We all assumed no one would come due to the rain, but there were twice as many there as last year. I was instructed to get photos of the messiest s’moriest faces I could, and it wasn’t hard.

Then the rain turned from a mist to a drizzle. The camera was put away so it still works for the rest of the week. And the s’more-covered kids (and adults) made their way out. Drenched, we worked to extinguish the fires – btw – didn’t know this, but you’re not supposed to just cover a beach fire with sand. You have to put it out with water because the heat from the fire will get trapped under the sand and stay hot for days. Then someone could step on it and get burned. Crazy, right…just a little tip for all you beach fire lovers. And just as we were about to put out the last one, there’s Jennifer Chrisler – also drenched, toasting a soggy marshmallow over the flickering flame. She just couldn’t stay away.

Where The Wild Things Are: Family Week in Provincetown Day 3

31 Jul

The wild things were abound this morning in Bas Relief Park. The park, for those who haven’t been to Provincetown, features…wait for it…a bas relief of the pilgrims signing the Mayflower Compact. I happen to have two ancestors who were on the Mayflower who both happened to sign the compact. This makes me fancy. But I digress.

The morning activity for the smaller kids, called ‘The Littles’ featured two bouncy houses (when I was a kid we called them “Moonwalks,” what happened to that?), face painting, parachutes and a story telling from Family Equality Council Board Member and children’s book author, Tommy Starling. His book, “Bob the Ladybug” is one of those great new children’s stories that hits home the idea that it’s okay to be different – the terrifying gay agenda at it’s best.

Following that, Kidapalooza and afternoon camp activities began. While the kids played, the parents participated in “Parent Cafés.” At the cafés. parents get the opportunity to discuss the specific challenges they are facing raising children – everything from adoption and pregnancy options available to fighting discrimination in their local schools. It’s a really useful tool for LGBT parents and this kind of thing is where Family Equality Council is able to provide the leadership that our families really need.

On to afternoon activities with teens from the Outspoken Generation (teen children of LGBT parents), gatherings for Moms and for Dads, and an Interfaith Photo Exhibit. We Have Faith is a touring photo exhibit which highlights LGBT people of many different religious backgrounds and their stories. It’s a truly eye-opening and stunningly photographed display. They are currently seeking funding and partnerships to bring the exhibit to more locations. More information is available at their website.

Here are some photos from yesterday’s activities!

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs: Family Week Day Two

30 Jul

Despite a whole day being overcast here in Provincetown, we brought the party.

Registration was set up early and the families began streaming in. Strollers covered in rainbows, sneakers coated in glitter – this is going to be one fabulous week.

The music was pumping in Crown & Anchor’s Wave Lounge as parents picked up the swag from Target and Children’s Tylenol. Staffers were dancing and babies were being passed around the room as the “Aaaawwwws” surpassed the One Direction tune coming from the Bose.

Then, in comes the Bermea family. We’ve written about Felix Bermea, Roy Messerschmidt and their 4 kids here before. Family Equality Council decided to fly them in from Arizona so they could forget some of the torment they faced in their hometown of Gilbert. Just to review, the Bermeas have been harassed for the past several months by their neighbors. Windows and doors rattled late at night, bushes in front of their home set on fire and even a break in where vandals scribed anti-gay epithets on their young daughter’s bedroom wall. All this while police did nothing, barely even a response from over 14 phone calls.

And here they are at Family Week – being shown there are hundreds of families just like their own. We’ll have more on them later in the week, but we’re super glad they’re here.

Following registration, a little nap followed by a meeting for Family Week newbies, the Outspoken Generation and then the Multi-Cultural Ice Cream Social! Here are some photos from the day:

A More Perfect World: Celebrating Our Families in Provincetown

10 Aug

Pilgrim Monument, Provincetown, MA (photo by Jamie McGonnigal, EqualityPhotography.com)

I had been to Provincetown twice in my life – once as a 13-year old with a summer camp field trip and once in 2005 on Rosie O’Donnell’s R Family Cruise as a correspondent for BroadwayWorld.com. It was always an exciting place to be. A weird sort of Narnia where the world was upside down, straight was gay and gay was straight. But the Provincetown I saw last week changed my life.

Family Equality Council‘s Family Week is intended to bring together LGBT families from across the country for one week of sun and fun. But that’s not all it is. Throughout the course of the week, kids are in summer camp classes learning about photography, dance, playwrighting, nature and all sorts of other summer campy-type disciplines. Parents are taking part in “Parent Cafes” learning about the state of the movement and meeting with other LGBT parents struggling with a lot of the same challenges they face. The week is filled with teen dances, movie nights, clam bakes, and whale watches. In this magnificent Utopia, kids get to be kids instead of “that boy with two moms” or “that girl with two dads.”

Brent Wright (Family Equality Council), his daughter, Olivia (photo by Jamie McGonnigal, EqualityPhotography.com)

For three years, I was the camp director at Camp TLC – a summer camp for inner-city teens living with HIV and AIDS. Not since that time did I see the difference it made in a child’s life to feel like they weren’t alone. Like at Camp TLC, these kids got to spend one week out of 52 weeks a year where they weren’t “the other.” For this week, every kid they knew was in the same boat as them and the support they felt and gave each other was palpable. I like to think they’ll be able to carry that through the other 51 weeks a year.

Family Week Parade (photo by Jamie McGonnigal, EqualityPhotography.com)

Most of the families I met last week came from parts of the country where marriage equality is not the law and where bigotry and hatred is alive and well. One young girl told us the story of her school chorus singing a song where one of the lyrics was “gay.” The kids snickered as kids will do and the teacher explained that the word “just meant ‘happy,’ not the other kind of gay – the other kind of gay is just wrong.” This wasn’t the only time this daughter of two moms faced these kinds of comments. But not this week – this week, instead of finger-pointing and exclusion, these kids are literally celebrated in a special parade down the main street of town.

For this one week, these families got to see what life could be like in a place with no discrimination or hatred, where they were the “normal” ones. Also encouraging to see were a few straight families bringing their children to Family Week. I spoke with one Dad who told me that this is the world he wants his children to grow up in. His two boys were adopted and he said this was one of the only places he could take them where the majority of other kids are adopted as well.

I learned a lot this week – far more than I could ever teach or write about here – but more than anything, I learned that as cliche as it may sound – it’s not biology that makes a family… it’s love.

Please enjoy some of our photos from this week and check out the slideshow we put together with the Family Equality Council. And also drop by their site and make a contribution so that Family Week can continue and grow to include as many families as possible. (all photos copyright: Jamie McGonnigal, EqualityPhotography.com)

NY Marriage Equality: How Did We Get There? A Photo Retrospective

26 Jun

I moved from New York to Washington DC three weeks ago to be with my boyfriend. It’s hard not to still consider New York City home after nearly 13 years living there, but after last night – my struggle to move on became even more difficult. For the past several years, I’ve proudly fought alongside some incredible activists, lobbyists, politicians and allies in the struggle for equality. And last night in New York, we finally won.

I thought of writing a diatribe about how much we have to learn from this victory – how for one of the first times in our movement’s history, we worked together to accomplish something. I could be heavy-handed and speak endlessly at the incredible work done by this partnership of several organizations all working towards the same thing. I could even go so far as to reflect on the fact that even though we have this beautiful victory at long last, that there are still 1,138 rights not afforded to legally married gay and lesbian couples and that we MUST focus on equality on the federal level. But instead, I decided to post some photos.

For the past 3+ years, I’ve discovered a love for photography and in my own way, I’ve been documenting some of the movement from my perspective as a New Yorker. So please enjoy these photos which reflect some of my favorite moments and people involved in the recent part of our struggle for equality. Please note: there are photos here from swanky cocktail parties, from pride marches, from rallies, protests, political speeches, phone banks and even a living room or two. New York Marriage Equality happened because of ALL of it, not some.

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All photos copyright Jamie McGonnigal, EqualityPhotography.com