I Am a Parent, We Are a Family
July 11, 2014
Cari Searcy & Kim McKeand • Mobile, AL
For eight long years, Cari Searcy and Kim McKeand have been trying to establish a legal bond to their son, Khaya, who they welcomed into the world in December 2005. They have filed petition after petition seeking second-parent adoption for the child, rightly asserting that there is no reason that Khaya should not be legally connected to both of his parents. Again and again, the petitions have been denied, with judges citing laws in Alabama that prohibit same-sex couples from marrying - and even deny respect to same-sex couples who legally marry in other states.
Now, as they watch judge after judge - more than 20 consecutive pro-marriage rulings have been issued since June 2013 - rule in favor of the freedom to marry, Cari and Kim have renewed hope that soon, they will be able to at last be respected as a family - two mothers, one son - by Alabama law.
That's why they've filed a federal lawsuit, Searcy v. Bentley, seeking respect for their marriage license, which they received in 2008 in California before Proposition 8 temporarily halted marriages in the state. And with a motion for summary judgment filed, they're hoping that this year, a federal judge in Alabama decides in their favor and strikes down anti-marriage laws in the state.
"It's a very Southern thing to stand up for your family," Cari said, referencing both their legal challenge to Alabama's ban and the actions they've taken with the Campaign for Southern Equality. "We're not going anywhere, and I'm looking forward to when all of our families can be recognized."
Cari and Kim have been together for more than 15 years, and for the past 13 years, they have called Alabama their home.
They initially moved to Mobile from Texas, where they met and fell in love, to be close to Kim's Uncle David and his longtime partner Scott. They spent lots of time with the men, hanging out in their place in Sticks River, a part of town full of retired folks and Uncle David and Scott (right), the only gay couple, who rode around in their golf cart, greeting the neighbors and breaking down misconceptions in their own way.
Uncle David and Uncle Scott were a real inspiration to a young couple like Cari and Kim.
"It was the first time I had really seen a successful long-term gay couple," Cari said. "They were out to everyone, and we thought it was so cool. For us to be around another couple who had been together for so long - they had a business and a condo and a little RV and boats and were totally out - it really gave us something to strive for. It was the first time we saw what our future could look like."
In 2005, they had Khaya, and just hours after his birth, doctors discovered he had a large hole in his heart - a severe case that precluded him from gaining weight and becoming healthy. Doctors had to perform open-heart surgery on the baby boy - and it was during this process that Cari was told she was not a legal parent and could not administer any care to her son.
Now, thankfully, Khaya is a healthy 8-year-old with a big heart who's already discovering a talent for baseball and a deep interest in monster trucks. But despite the fact that most of his life is the typical experience of an 8-year-old boy, the fact remains that only one of his mothers is legally connected to him.
Cari and Kim are excited to see their case move forward in federal court, and they're gearing up for the day they get to make the case for marriage in court and show Alabama that there's no good reason for their family to face this discrimination.
"It would be such a feeling of completion to win this case and see same-sex couples treated equally in Alabama," Cari said. "For so long, without this legal recognition, we've always had that thing in the back of our minds telling us we're not totally valid. I think that once this finally happens and we're considered a family in all aspects, we're going to feel total elation."
"It's like this is the one thing that's missing from our life," Cari continued. "Having respect for our marriage is the one thing missing from making our family complete."