Mothers across the country share stories of why marriage matters for all families
May 11, 2014
Today, on Mother’s Day, May 11, Americans across the country are joining together to celebrate moms - both gay and straight - for all they do to support their children and build strong families. It's a time to celebrate our families and cheer on the respect and love and support that mothers provide for their children.
But for many mothers, today's holiday is as a reminder of the laws that still exist in 33 states across the country that treat families with two moms as less than equal. Tens of thousands of moms across the state are denied the respect and protections that only marriage can provide for their families - and still, many moms must watch as their gay and lesbian children are denied the freedom to marry in their home state.
That's why this Mother’s Day, moms are speaking out for the freedom to marry. From moms of gay and lesbian children to lesbian moms raising kids, their stories send one clear message: It's time for marriage nationwide. Read their stories, written for a range of state marriage campaigns:
Linda Stay • Utah
Personal Reflection from Linda Stay: 13 years ago, I met my wonderful husband Steve, and I know it may sound cliché, but I mean it when I say that life has been an absolute dream ever since. Our marriage brought our large families together, and boy—has it been a wild ride!
We have a combined stepfamily of nine children. Each of our children is unique—our family is diverse across faith traditions, ages, and sexual orientations. But it’s our differences that make us stronger; they make us, as a family, feel whole.
There’s nothing the love of family can’t get us through. But there is one situation, in particular, where Steve and I felt like our love as parents was just not enough. You see, we have two gay children. And in Utah, that means that two of our children—our beautiful, talented children—are denied the freedom to marry the person they love. Their pursuit of a happily ever after for themselves is stopped short.
When Tyler and Amanda turned 18, they decided to leave Utah because they did not feel safe here or that, given our state’s constitutional amendment banning marriage for same-sex couples, they would have the opportunity to grow in their relationships, start a life and build a family.
As their mom, it is utterly heartbreaking.
This Mother’s Day, it is crucial that we think of all families here in Utah–including my own–who are impacted by Utah’s marriage ban. A mother’s greatest wish is to protect all of her children, and until the freedom to marry is brought to same-sex couples in our state, I will not feel that all my children are protected. My heart longs for the day when all of my children can feel respected and affirmed in Utah.
Jacqueline Ordonez • Ohio
Personal Reflection from Jacqueline Ordonez: My family is large and boisterous! There is never a dull moment in my household. My wonderful wife Kristina and I are together raising two children Karina and Adrienne, I’m sure every mom says this, but I mean it from the bottom of my heart: I am truly blessed! Every member of our family brings such different personalities to the table, and we blend together so well.
First, there is Karina. Karina is 15 and is getting ready to enter high school in the fall. She is goofy and has the biggest heart I’ve ever seen in a child. She’s a great kid!
My youngest daughter’s name is Adrienne. She is dynamic! She is 8 and is a dancing, singing, DIVA! Aside from her love of the stage, she also plays baseball on a little league team. She is the only girl on the team and she makes her mommas proud!
Completing my amazing family is my spouse Kristina. She is the best thing that has happened to me (besides my children!). We share the same core values, and we have the same idea of what love is and how to maintain a happy marriage. She is a true partner and never fails to supports and love the kids and me. Kristina just has that kind of personality where I knew, the moment I met her, that I would spend my life with her and build a family together.
Living in a state where same-sex couples are not respected is often overwhelming. Gay couples are perceived as less than the average person. When people see us with our children, they often stare or make cruel comments. And then we’re left having to explain to our children why our family is treated differently than other families.
This Mother’s Day, it is important to recognize that all moms just dream of creating a loving and supporting environment for their children. Kristina and I are kept from being able to fully protect Karina and Adrienne because of Ohio’s harmful ban on marriage for same-sex couples. We love our kids and just want to support them in every way possible
Kershunda & Keyana • Maryland
When Kershunda and Keyana met, they were both serving as soldiers in the Army. "Keyana was helping me get my orderst taken care of, and I instantly fell in love," Kershunda said. They became friends, and each of their sons became friends, and in the next year, the women started dating - just weeks before Keyana was deployed to Iraq. During their time apart, Kershunda and Keyana fell in love over a long-distance relationship, and Kershunda ended her career as a soldier so that she and Keyana could be together. Thgey married in November 2011 in DC.
"Being a mother is love," said Kershunda, an active member of the American Military Partner Association. "It's such a blessing to be a mother - the most rewarding job in the world. Watching them grow from these little innocent, sweet boys to opinionated, smart, and respectful young men is more than I could ever ask." This Mothers' Day, while they are enjoying the blessings of motherhood, Kershunda and Keyana are also looking toward June, when the Supreme Court has the opportunity to overturn DOMA and end federal marriage discrimination for legally married same-sex couples. "I am not even legally authorized to travel with my wife - and because of DOMA, I'm not even recognized as her wife," Kershunda said. "My marriage matters because it says I am committed to the love of my life. It means being able to walk side by side and be recognized as a strong military couple that sacrifices just like other couples do."
Satyam & Tonja • Georgia
Satyam Barakoti and Tonja Holder have lived together in Atlanta for nearly six years. It's where they met, built a friendship, and fell in love. It's where they promised their commitment to each other in May 2011, in front of all of their family members and friends. It's where they're raising their daughter, who they welcomed into the world on November 14, 2013. And it's where they hope, someday, to be legally and fully respected as a married couple.
"We do not have marriage equality in Georgia - but we do outside of Georgia," Tonja explained. "It's amazing how much that matters. When addressing any government institution, we are always asked, 'Are you married?' Our answer is always, 'Yes, but Georgia doesn't recognize it.'"
"The DOMA decision last year means that we can always answer yes to the question of whether we are married," Tonja continued. "And when Georgia is finally drug into the 21st century by extending marriage to all families, it means we won't have to follow up our answer with a 'but.'"
Kendall and Julie • Arkansas
Last year, Kendall and Julie Wright were determined to make a change in Arkansas law for couples like themselves who wanted to jointly adopt their children: In their state, second-parent adoptions are not permitted for same-sex couples, and so Kendall and Julie wanted to set a precedent for families like theirs to live securely and without question.
The women knew that in Arkansas, two people must be married in order for a stepparent to legally adopt children - and so they traveled to Iowa in March of 2013 to receive a marriage license. As they began to mount their case to strike down anti-gay second-parent adoption laws, they learned of an attorney, Cheryl Maples, looking to challenge laws that denied same-sex couples the freedom to marry in the state. Friends approached them about joining the lawsuit - and they agreed. They wanted to challenge the anti-gay laws in Arkansas, the state they love, so that their family can have a safe, comfortable future there.
Kendall and Julie have been together since 2007, ever since a mutual friend set the two up. They had a commitment ceremony on March 8, 2008 at Open Door Community Church, officiated by a family friend and pastor in Sherwood, AR. Since then, they have been raising their family together in El Paso.
"We had already started a family by 2007," Kendall explained. "And Pastor Randy said he would bless our union when we said we wanted to be brought together under the eyes of God. That was the most important thing to us - we wanted to make our family a family unit in God's eyes."
Five years after that first commitment ceremony - in which they said "I do" in front of 170 people - they made it official in Iowa - and now, as the named plaintiffs in Wright v. Arkansas, the case in which, on Friday, May 9, a circuit judge struck down Arkansas' ban on marriage for same-sex couples.
Kendall explained that she and Julie are a part of the lawsuit because of their children.
"I want all people to be raised with open minds," Kendall said. "My 11-year-old and 13-year-old look at me and say, 'Why do people care what happens at our house?' They know that all people should be able to have their bliss - and that's what we're fighting for here."
Cora Courage • Wyoming
Personal Reflection from Cora Courage: My daughter Bianca came into my life when she was three years old. I fell in love with her mother and I was smitten by this adorable child. The first time she called me “mama” my heart swelled with pride and I knew that no matter what happened in my life her happiness was what I would strive to attain.
Bianca even understood my working and going to school as steps to make a better life for our family. She was a patriot when 9/11 happened: when I came home from work that day the flag in the yard was at half-mast and she met me at the door to ask if I needed her to help me pack because she knew that as Soldier in the Army National Guard I might be deploying.
Her mother and I split up while I was deployed and it was hard work for Bianca and I to reconnect as a mother and daughter when I returned. I went through a loss of the relationship in which I raised my daughter into her teens. Because we were not legally married, I had no legal connection or right to see my child when I came home. Legal recognition of all marriages affords some protection to parents rights and provides security for their children. Despite the challenges, we did reconnect on an even deeper level, and circumstances allowed me to legally adopt her in 2005.
We moved on, and I fell in love again. Bianca actually enjoys taking credit for being the matchmaker for my wife, Nonie and I, having encouraged us to become more than friends. When I went to Iraq for my second deployment, again, she spent the duration of a two year mobilization with Nonie and her family. She graduated from high school and became a young mother while I was away. She is 25 years-old and has two beautiful boys. Bianca fell in love, but waited to marry until I returned from my fourth and hopefully last deployment and I have been so impressed to see her as a mother who supports and encourages her children to never stop believing in their ability to be anything they want to be given commitment and dedication. She has incorporated values of family, loyalty, commitment and defines herself on her own terms.
We are mothers, and this Mother’s Day, we hope that someday soon, Wyoming will recognize us for exactly what we are—a loving family who just want to be afforded the same respect and protections given to all other families. Without the freedom to marry in Wyoming, Nonie and I cannot protect our children as we should. It is time for our family to have the respect we all deserve.
Summer & Celeste • Kansas
Young mothers (and American Military Partner Association members) Summer and Celeste recently celebrated the second birthday of their baby girl, Ellie.
"My daughter challenges me to be a better person," Summer said. "Just having the ability to nurture and impact the upbringing of a child is so special. She means everything to us both." The women currently live in Junction City, KS, where they are stationed at Fort Riley, since Celeste serves in Active Duty Army as a PFC.
The couple has been together for nearly five years, but in Kansas, they do not have the freedom to marry. "Having the freedom to marry would make my family feel safe and protected," Summer said. "We would know that no matter what, we would be recognized 'legally' as a family."
Elizabeth Harcrow-Stevenson • Oklahoma
Personal Reflection from Elizabeth Harcrow-Stevenson: I mean it when I say that my family is my life. Nothing—absolutely nothing—is more important to me than the happiness and wellbeing of my husband and children.
We have a huge family—two sons, a daughter, a daughter-in-law, a son-in-law, one grandson, and four granddaughters. We enjoy just being together, it doesn’t matter what the activity is, just as long as we are together. Now that I’m a grandmother though, I have to say that my favorite thing is attending our grandchildren’s sporting events. I am so proud to see how talented they are!
Being a family brings us great joy, but there is one dark cloud that hangs over our happiness. Since same-sex couples cannot marry in Oklahoma, my son, Troy, is treated as less than my other children simply because he is gay. All mothers dream of seeing their children walk down the aisle, committing to spend their lives with the one person that they found that truly makes them happy in a way no other person can–their missing piece. But until Oklahoma’s constitutional amendment banning marriage for same-sex couples is overturned, that is a motherly dream I cannot fulfill.
It brings me to tears every time I think of how two of my children enjoy the right to marry, while my third child has to fight to marry the one he loves. As a mother, I’m angry and I’m frustrated that Troy is treated as less-than.
This Mother’s Day, it is time for Oklahoma to consider all of the families that are impacted by the state’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples. My children mean the world to me, and ensuring their happiness and safety is all I could ask for.
Paula & Jane • North Carolina
For nearly two decades, Paula Womack and Jane Weidig have been living in North Carolina - and in November 2012, they legally married in Massachusetts.
Their wedding was largely prompted by Jane's mother, who the couple were set to visit in Massachusetts for Thanksgiving in 2012. Jane's mother suffers from Alzheimer's, and Jane explained that her desire to see her daughter get married played a big role in their decision to wed out of state.
"Shortly before our trip, my mother and I were talking on the phone," Jane explained. "Out of the blue, she said, 'Hey, why don't you two get married while you're up here?'"
Paula and Jane had always planned to wait to marry until they could in their home state - but her question made them reconsider: Realizing that it was important to Mom, and wanting her to be able to participate and understand what was happening, they changed their plans. Just after Thanksgiving, after nearly two decades together, Jane and Paula legally said "I do."
Just this week, Paula and Jane recorded their marriage license in Raleigh, NC with the Campaign for Southern Equality's We Do action, two years to the day of the passage of Amendment One, the anti-marriage constitutional amendment in the state.
"It means so much to know that our marriage will be recorded in the public record," Paula said. "Our love, our marriage, will be documented - and that is a firm statement that we are here and that we are just like everyone else."
Angela & Fernanda • Washington, D.C.
This month, Angela and Fernanda are celebrating their thirdwedding anniversary; they married in May 2011 in their home city of Washington, D.C. The couple met in 2005, and they instantly hit it off; they fell in love and Fernanda quickly became close with Angela and her twin children, who were then 3 years old.
"When we married in May, it wasn't Angela and I getting married, but rather a ceremony that merged the four of us into an 'official' family," Fernanda said. "I never saw James and Dakota as Angie's kids or as my step kids, but rather as my family," she added.
James and Dakota felt similarly. By the time the twins were four years old, they were well accustomed to having Fernanda in their lives. One day, James, clearly confused by Disney cartoons that cast stepmoms as villains, told her, "Step mothers are mean - and you're not mean! You are our Fernanmommy."
Now, Angela and Fernanda are hopeful that couples across the country will be able to share in the joys of shared motherhood as they have been able to. "As we look to expand our family in the coming years, we hope that the freedom to marry becomes a reality," they said.
Jo & Lindi • Utah
It was the middle of the afternoon on Friday, Dec. 20th, and Jo and Lindi Barney were getting their family ready for a pajama party. As the women finished dressing their kids in pajamas featuring Olaf the snowman from the animated Disney movie Frozen, they started seeing amazing headlines appear on their Facebook pages: “Federal judge strikes down Utah ban on same-sex marriage.”
Jo and Lindi have lived in Salt Lake City all their lives. And in their four years as a couple, they had repeatedly been told by their home state that their relationship did not merit legal respect. Stunned at the news about the court ruling, Jo called an attorney friend, who advised them that they should head to the courthouse and get married immediately.
“We were all wearing Olaf the Snowman pajamas,” Jo said. “My hair was still wet from a shower, we had no make-up on, and we knew we didn’t have time to find a babysitter.”
But it didn’t matter: they turned to each other, grinned, and made the decision together – “Let’s go!”
With both kids in tow, they raced to the county recorder’s office in Salt Lake City, arriving just before four o’clock, an hour before the office would close for the day. They stood in line with more than 100 other loving same-sex couples, said their vows in front of the same attorney friend (who happened to also be a licensed minister), and signed their marriage license. At last, they were legally married in the state of Utah.
“We were married in our pajamas while holding our two babies – babies that this state had always said could not be both of ours,” Lindi said, citing laws in Utah that preclude same-sex couples from jointly adopting children. “For the first time, that mountain of inequality in Utah was crumbling.”
Today, as Jo and Lindi wait for justice in Utah, they continue to lead their lives with their daughters, Kylen and Tyce.
"We are so happy that we have each other," Jo said. "We are so grateful to be a family."
Fawn & Rhonda • Alaska
Fawn and Rhonda live with their young son, Trevor White, in Nome, Alaska, where the women met for the first time. When Fawn moved to Nome from the White Eagle Reservation in Oklahoma, she quickly connected with Rhonda and they began to build their life together, including welcoming Trev into their life in 2009. Because same-sex couples do not have the freedom to marry in Alaska, Fawn and Rhonda are unmarried - but that doesn't mean they haven't thought about how they want to celebrate their love and commitment.
"I want to get married on the beaches of the Seward Peninsula," Fawn said. "I want to be facing the Bering Sea with my mom and dad sitting in the front row. I want my pastor to lead us in prayer. I want my brother to sing a Prayer Song from my Ponca people. I want to make my vow to love and cherish Rhonda and our son as long as I live. I want to make my vow publicly and lawfully. I want to have her as my wife."
They know that they want to tie the knot in their home state - and they want Alaska to support their love. "Alaska is a part of my Identity and it would add another mark of pride," Rhonda said, explaining, "To say, I am Alaskan, I am from this wonderful state that offers so much and supports me and who I am."
Fawn said that she and Rhonda would continue speaking out for the freedom to marry. "As Native people, we are no strangers to the struggle for equality," she said. Our grandparents and parents have raised us to be resilient and to stand and fight for what is right. I plan on standing until I am able to walk down the aisle and proclaim my love for the mother of my child, the woman I cherish and adore."
Julie Miller • Pennsylvania
Personal Reflection from Julie Miller: This Mother’s Day will be a completely different one for me. I am the doting, proud, grandmother of 4 exquisite, fantastic, brilliant, kids. Last year at this time I had three from my son and daughter-in-law and was awaiting the birth of our fourth. Everything changed when darling Zivah was born to my daughter and her wife.
They had decided to move to Philadelphia from New York to be closer to us, buy a home in West Philly and start a family. They left legal married life in Brooklyn and now, as they return to the state we all call home, they face discrimination and heartache as Pennsylvania doesn’t recognize their legal marriage.
This devoted couple (my daughter-in-law is an inner city emergency room doctor while my daughter is an educator for a non-profit benefitting Philadelphia high school students) had to face daunting obstacles in their relationship as parents and citizens. My daughter-in-law had to jump through legal hoops and adopt her own daughter,file reams of papers to become her legal co-parent. A married couple of the opposite sex have no barriers marring their life as a family. Why should my darling granddaughter not benefit from her loving family?
Her daring parents are now in a lawsuit sponsored by the ACLU challenging DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act. This legal challenge will end an unjust law. Hopefully soon citizens like them will be welcomed into our commonwealth. This Mother’s Day little Zivah is doubly blessed with two mothers to celebrate.
Brenda Allen • Arizona
Personal Reflection from Brenda Allen: I met my partner Karen 17 years ago—and today, we’re as in love as ever. As a couple, we’ve followed a simple rule that has carried us through even the toughest of situations: be kind to each other. If we argue, it’s about the issue, not each other. We are a team first and foremost. When Karen and I fell in love, we both brought children to the relationship. Together, we formed a tight-knit family, and it has been a wonderful ride seeing them grow up together.
My daughter, Toni, is the absolute light of my life. Seeing her and Karen bond was beautiful to witness, and I am so happy that my daughter and partner were able to have such a relationship.
But the only damper on our family life is brought only by Arizona’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples. So long as Arizona’s constitutional amendment is on the books, it means that our family isn’t seen as a family in the eyes of the state. It means that Karen and I are nothing more than legal strangers to one another. And it means that our family is denied the critical protections and respect only marriage can provide.
This Mother’s Day, moms like Karen and I are faced with the harsh reality that we are seen as second-class in our home state of Arizona. It is time to bring the freedom to marry to our state, so our family can finally be respected for what we are—a family who love and support each other no matter what.
Summer Davies • Kentucky
Personal Reflection from Summer Davies: 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. But now the ruling has been stayed, and it's being appealed by our Governor.
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.
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.
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 this year's Kentucky 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?
Jenny & Jodi • Colorado
As parents, Jenny and Jodi are yin and yang. Raising their 13-year-old daughter, Morgan, has been a wild ride for these two Colorado lawyers.
“Fortunately, we agree on most major parenting issues and share priorities,” Jenny said. “Jodi can bring patience and I can be more empathetic. And where I tend to worry and fall into overprotective mode, Jodi is more apt to take an empowering approach. We seem to do pretty well mostly because we naturally balance our approaches.”'
Jenny and Jodi are totally invested in Morgan’s future–but one thing is holding them back from being able to provide for her and protect her fully. Since Colorado does not offer the freedom to marry to gay and lesbian couples, Jenny and Jodi are only able to join in a civil union—which means they are denied the critical protections and respect that only marriage can ensure.
“Because we are unable to marry each other, we feel like we are prevented from affirming our commitment and demonstrating to our daughter the positive values of commitment and responsibility through marriage,” Jodi explained. “We also face added struggles in trying to protect our daughter, as the laws that provide such protections are not readily available to us. There is literally no other legal relationship that is given the same amount of respect as marriage – both in social settings and under the law. It’s significant that we don’t just want the protections marriage provides, we also want to be responsible for each other and our child.”
This Mother’s Day, moms like Jenny and Jodi are lifting their voices to show why marriage matters to their family and the tens of thousands of gay and lesbian Coloradans who are denied the freedom to marry. All moms deserve the peace of mind to know that, no matter what, they can fully protect their children when it matters most, and the only thing that makes that possible is the freedom to marry here in Colorado.