A same-sex couple in Kentucky urges governor: don’t appeal equality

Editors' Note: This guest column was written by Summer Davies on behalf of herself, her wife Sarah, and their daughter Kate. The women are legally married and they celebrated with great joy on February 12, when U.S. District Court Judge John G. Heyburn ruled in Bourke v. Beshear that Kentucky must respect the marriages of same-sex couples legally performed in other states. Now, with their Governor indicating that he will appeal the ruling, the couple speaks out about their family and urges their governor to stop standing in the way of equality. 

I've lived in Kentucky for most of my life, and over the past three and a half years, I've built a home here with my wonderful wife, Sarah, right in my hometown of Lexington.

We're raising our 18-month-old daughter Kate, and we're eagerly expecting our second child. We're so happy to call Kentucky our home.

We were even happier on February 12, 2014, when a federal judge ruled that our state must recognize the legal marriages of same-sex couples - couples just like us, who got married out of state. 

"It was a relief to have the support that last month's ruling represents - But when will our elected officials stop standing in the way of equality once and for all?"

Sarah and I tied the knot in Washington, D.C. on October 15, 2011. Since then, we've watched as same-sex couples won the freedom to marry in 17 states and DC, and we rejoiced when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the core of the Defense of Marriage Act and extended to us all of the federal protections of marriage.

We were so grateful for the judge's decision last month - for bringing us one step closer to fair treatment in the home that we love. But this week, Kentucky Governor Beshear said that he intends to appeal the ruling, even though our Attorney General said that the marriage ban in our state is indefensible.

We were so proud to see the Attorney General say that he would not appeal the ruling - and we are equally disheartened by the governor's decision to stand in the way of equality for all families.

We want the same things every other family wants - we are not asking for anything more than the same basic rights that everyone deserves. We want our commitment to one another to be respected.

When we decided to declare our commitment to each other more than two years ago, it was critically important to us that our marriage was solemnized and legal. We knew that we wanted to have a family, and we knew that it would be difficult for us to protect our children under the laws of our home state.

Sure enough, when we welcomed Kate into the world 18 months ago, I was a legal stranger to our daughter. Under the law, I had the same relationship with her as a hired teenage babysitter. I was the first person to hold our daughter, but I cannot be listed on her birth certificate.

We investigated our legal options and decided that our best bet was a “friendly lawsuit." I had to sue my own spouse for joint custody of the child I was nursing. We had to hire separate attorneys to represent our interests. Sarah had to waive her right to full custody, even though she is Kate’s biological parent. Our attorneys helped us to create a coparenting agreement that is designed to give Kate the fullest protection possible under the law. After thousands of dollars and reams of paper, I am still considered only a “joint custodian” to Kate and am not allowed to adopt her. It was ridiculous. 

The security of our entire family remains at risk because of state laws that deny same-sex couples the dignity of being able to marry and grow their families with all of the protections that different-sex couples have. We are desperate for the right to adopt and to formalize my relationship with the kids. Both of their parents have been present and involved every day of their lives, and have always been committed to putting them first—but our state will not allow them this most basic of protections because they have two moms.

"We have poured thousands of dollars into basic security measures that would be automatically in place if only our marriage was recognized."

We have spent thousands and thousands of dollars trying to legally replicate the benefits of recognized marriage, and still we fall short in Kentucky. We have the same expenses as any other family - a college fund, daycare tuition, Gymboree, vet bills for our aging pets, new windows, a car payment - and I can think of ten other terrific ways we could have used the money.

But instead, we needed to pour it into basic security measures that would be automatically in place if only our marriage was recognized. And we’ll need to do it all over again when the baby is born this summer.

We are just a normal family. We wash dishes and hate it. We pay bills and worry about finances. We change a million diapers. Our daughter wants to read the same three books over and over and over again. We stand on the lawn and talk with our neighbors. Some nights we give up on dinner and order a pizza. Our laundry is never finished. The pets drive us crazy. The car needs an oil change. Kate keeps on growing and needs longer pants again. We have the same chaos and worries and chores as everyone else does - and we also take comfort in the same things everyone else does: Our family. Our home. The unshakable love that we find at the roots. We aren’t any different.

So what happens now? What do we have to do next? If our governor appeals, we will have to wait for this to spin out in court - it could be months, even years, before our marriage recognition is settled now. And it is so disheartening.

Marriage matters to us because we don’t want our kids to grow up feeling like their family is second-class. We just can’t understand why our state government should continue to insist that we are somehow less deserving of the basic right to family security. We are trying to do the right thing by providing for ourselves and our kids, taking responsibility for our own commitments.

It was a relief to have the support that last month's ruling represents - and we are really proud of those families and attorneys pushing for victory. But when will our elected officials - the people who represent our families and our communities - stop standing in the way of equality once and for all? When will they see that our family just wants the basic respect afforded to all other families?

Learn more about marriage litigation in Kentucky, and raise your voice with Southerners for the Freedom to Marry