Two Views: CNN’s Gary and Tony Have a Baby

Jacob Levine, a Los Angeles resident and psychology major at Yale University, is currently working as a summer intern at Freedom to Marry.
Originally from Springfield, Illinois, Sam Schoenburg is a political science major and rising senior at Yale University.
CNN’s documentary In America: Gary + Tony Have a Baby will premiere on June 24 at 8PM EST/PST.
Jacob Levine: 
It isn’t often I see my future flash before my eyes. Even after finishing junior year of college, I’m still not entirely sure what my career path is going to look like and I don’t know exactly where I want to settle down. But there is one aspect of my life that I have thought a lot about, and while at a screening of CNN’s new documentary In America: Gary + Tony Have a Baby, I saw my future.

My dream for the future involves just about every aspect of the stereotypical heterosexual life that many girls grow up dreaming about. I want a beautiful house in the suburbs with a white picket fence, I want a beautiful husband to spend the rest of my life with, and I want two beautiful children to nurture and love. In other words, I want to mimic the life my parents have forged for themselves and the family they raised. And as I came to realize last night at the documentary screening, I’m definitely not alone.

The documentary, reported by CNN correspondent Soledad O’Brien, follows the journey of New York City residents Gary Spino and Tony Brown during their recent quest to have a child of their own. As has become increasingly clear in recent years, there is a wide variety of options available to same-sex couples looking to start a family. For Gary and Tony, their desire to have a biological connection to their child led them to pursue surrogacy, a complex and costly endeavor.

Gary and Tony’s story, like the stories of many blossoming gay families, has been complicated by the lack of marriage recognition from New York and the federal government, as well as their concerns about discrimination and lack of support from within their community. Watching their struggle to forge a family and hearing their concerns brought a few important points to mind.

First and foremost, the urgent need to end the exclusion of loving gay and lesbian couples from marriage has never been more apparent. The extra hoops that gay parents have to jump through to solidify their legal relationship to their children and the vast amounts of money they are forced to spend to obtain legal rights automatically given to heterosexual couples makes the already stressful experience of being a new parent even more stressful. When I have kids, I’m going to want to spend all of my time worrying about whether my son is hungry or whether my daughter’s diaper needs to be changed. The last thing I want to worry about is whether my husband is legally recognized as their parent. 

Secondly, the queer community and our allies need to educate the rest of America and the world about the realities of gay families. Study after study has shown that children of lesbian or gay parents are as well adjusted as those of straight parents. But, no matter how rigorous the research, most opponents of marriage equality will never believe the results. Still, no one can deny evidence they see in front of their own eyes. 

As more and more people become exposed to healthy gay families, misconceptions and downright hateful stereotypes will fall, paving the way for increased societal tolerance and support for the rapidly growing number of gay families in America. I’m hopeful that CNN’s documentary will prove to be an important step in increasing this visibility. But we can’t rely on others, even giants like CNN, to do all the important work. We must take responsibility in our own communities and share our stories and the stories of our friends and peers. Only by talking to people and opening ourselves can we truly change this country for the better. 
Sam Schoenburg:
Staring up at the screen, I recently had the opportunity to view a momentous occasion, an expensive and difficult undertaking believed unthinkable by many until now: a loving couple was having a baby. 

Well, that wasn’t the only twist. The real reason all of those people gathered yesterday to watch the advance screening of an upcoming CNN documentary was the identity of the newborn’s parents: Gary Spino and Tony Brown. The event was a premiere of the new CNN special In America: Gary and Tony Have a Baby, hosted by the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) at the Paley Center for Media.

The story itself was harrowing. The couple’s decision to have a child, followed by finding an egg donor and separate surrogate mother, and jumping the many legal hurdles, all while riding an emotional rollercoaster, were enough to bring tears to the eyes of many in the audience. The challenges to gay parenting are still enormous and encompass medical, financial, and legal spheres. The bottom-line cost of the whole endeavor was staggeringly high, nearly $200,000, all before baby Nicholas was even born. 

But at the end of the documentary, the clearest message was a familiar one. Gary and Tony were elated to have a child and build a family, just like any parents would be when they bring a new baby into the world. 

The night ended with a panel discussion from Gary, Tony, and son Nicholas, and included GLAAD President Jarrett Barrios and Family Equality Council Executive Director Jennifer Chrisler. While the Q-and-A covered the interests of the various organizations, focusing alternately on LGBT media representation and the legal difficulties for LGBT families, it was clear that everyone in the room was on the same team. To see this story told with such honesty, and on such a large scale, was an obvious step forward.

The night reminded me why I came to work with Freedom To Marry in the first place. For me, being gay does not mean that I cannot lead the life I was raised to want. Instead, I can look forward to having a family in a loving and open household. Stories like Tony and Gary’s pave the way for all of us working to secure the freedom to marry and building the future I see for myself: when starting a family isn’t a radical step, but something all people, gay or straight, have the ability and support to pursue.