2 Dads, 4 Kids, and 1 Happy Family in Florida

Juan Luque & Patrick Duffy | Tampa, FL

As Juan Luque dragged his paintbrush up and down one of the white walls of the empty room, he examined the color and couldn't understand why his partner, Patrick Duffy, would want to cover the walls of this room in their new house with the pale green paint.

"It wasn't a lime green or a rich kelly green," Juan said, remembering his confusion about the color. "It was one of those soft watercolor greens that makes you grit your teeth.

He turned to Patrick, and asked if he was sure about the light green pastel color.

"Oh, yeah," Patrick replied. "This is the baby's room. This is the nursery."

It was late 2009, and Juan and Patrick had been dating for a little over one year in Tampa, Florida. Juan knew that Patrick occasionally talked about having children some day - but he thought he meant maybe, and later, and in the distant far-away future.

"He told me once that he had always wanted to be a father," Juan wrote in a blog post about his family. "I heard that like it was somebody telling me, 'One day, I would like to be a Hollywood star."

But Patrick was serious: He wanted to be a father, and he wanted Juan to join him on the journey - to be his life partner, his co-parent, his husband.

"That day and the next coming weeks were a test to me," Juan explained. "I needed to clarify my position in the relationship, and after meditating and talking it over with my closest friends, I decided I was ready to be a part of the plan. Patrick is the love of my life, and I was in all the way. "

Over the next few weeks, as Juan and Patrick continued renovating the house and decorating the rooms - even agreeing to paint over the pale green color in the nursery - the men began researching the logistics behind surrogacy, egg donors, and adoption laws.

"It was like as soon as I accepted the possibility of becoming a parent, something clicked in my brain," Juan said. And by the time their son was born to a surrogate mother in San Diego, CA, Juan was ready.

Ready to be a dad. Ready to pass on what he's learned as an architect by teaching his children how to build cardboard houses and tree houses. Ready to build his future with the love of his life, Patrick.

Now, Juan can't imagine not being a father. And he and Patrick have quite the family: After welcoming their son Lorenzo into their lives in December 2011, they decided to have another child, again through surrogacy.

Using the same eggs and embryos from the treatment that brought them Lorenzo, Juan and Patrick were again successful. And when the doctors revealed the big news - that they were pregnant with triplets - the couple was shocked. But together with their surrogate, Juan and Patrick prepared for their family to double in size, and they moved forward.

As they prepared, they moved from a small home in the city of Tampa to a larger house in a suburban area, swapped the SUV for a minivan, and readied a second nursery in the new home.

On April 1, 2013, Juan and Patrick's life changed when their family of three became a family of six with the addition of Lily, Liam, and Leo.

"All of the tension, anxiety, fears, and stress from the past ten months were absolutely gone when we were able to be there. The triplets were born, and I was looking at our children. These small little things waggling and breathing."

Now, the triplets are coming up on being nine months old - and as they grow up, Juan and Patrick have shared peeks into their new life on Facebook and through blogging platforms about parenting and families.

It's already been an incredible year for Juan, Patrick, and their children. As fathers of four, they've enjoyed their first Halloween...

....their first Thanksgiving....

...countless hours on the swing set...

...and are now enjoying the holiday season for the first time.

But even as they share these amazing moments with their children and other gay and lesbian families looking for support, Juan and Patrick are denied the freedom to marry in their home state of Florida. Florida - along with 34 other states - restricts marriage to different-sex couples.

Just over a year ago, Juan and Patrick did have the chance to register as domestic partners in the city of Tampa, but since then, they have moved beyond the city limits, and the county as a whole does not respect domestic partnership between same-sex couples. 

The men want to have the chance to marry in their home state - to take that step together with the support of their amazing children.

"Our wedding would be nice and original - not big, but memorable, with our closest friends and our kids," Juan explained. "I'm sure when the kids get older they will want to have their parents married like any other family."

They also need the protections that marriage provides to couples and their families.

"We would be able to feel much more secure and safe," Juan said. "With four children, if something were to happen to one of us, we would not receive any benefits." Patrick's health insurance does not extend to same-sex partners, even registered domestic partners like Juan and Patrick - so Juan cannot access his partner's health care.

"The danger is that if I get sick, I will not be able to afford all of the potential medical bills - it could financially devastate our family," Juan said. "There are always fears of getting sick - and I even feel I can't go to the doctor because the cost is too high without insurance." 

Juan and Patrick feel lucky and blessed for so many of the things in their lives: They are thankful to have four amazing and healthy children, to live in a friendly community in a beautiful city, and to have support from their friends, family members, and new online community of same-sex couples raising parents.

But as they build their lives with their four young children, Juan and Patrick do not feel as secure as they should feel. They do not feel that they are respected as a loving and committed couple, and they do not understand why the state of Florida does not recognize that they are already doing the work of marriage.

Patrick said he turns to his parents' marriage as inspiration for his own family - and he wants the same opportunity his parents had. 

"My parents have been married for 47 years," Patrick said. "And through the good and the bad, they have continued to stay married and committed to each other. Marriage is the ultimate commitment - and Juan and I want that opportunity." 

"I look forward to the day that Juan and I can marry," Patrick said. "I look forward to spending our lives together as husband and husband - forever."

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