Rusted Sun Pizza is packed for a Friday night. Beer bottles and Coke glasses clink, cooks bustle to throw pepperoni and artichokes on top of delicious pies and patrons scuttle indoors to escape the bitter January wind.
And eight-month-old Sam sits up in one of his mothers’ laps, sucking intently at a water glass. Every time Kelley Beeny moves it away (to “keep him from drowning himself,” she jokes), he shrieks and waves his fists.
“He must be teething,” her partner Kaye Beeny says, bouncing Sam’s fraternal twin Ben as he reaches for a stuffed toy on the lacquered wood tabletop.
It’s just another family outing for Kelley and Kaye, the latter of whom gave birth to the twins through artificial insemination just eight months ago (“overachieving ovaries,” she laughs). But in the eyes of Utah law, the four are not just another family, and haven’t been since 2000 when Utah lawmakers changed the state’s adoption codes to keep gay and unmarried couples from adopting children. It’s what local gay rights activists often refer to as a classic Catch-22: the women cannot legally wed because Utah’s constitution bans gay marriage, and because they must live as an unmarried couple, they cannot adopt. This means that Kelley, the non-biological mother, has no legal standing in the lives of the children she is helping to raise.
“It pisses me off,” she says.
In an attempt to achieve some legal rights, the couple has amassed a parcel of documents familiar to many same-sex couples – a co-guardianship agreement, power of attorney and several pertaining to estate planning among them. Ultimately, though, the two know that they can only get full parental rights if they leave Utah – which is one of only three states banning gays from adopting children.
“It doesn’t seem fair for us and our families to have to do that,” Kaye says. “These are Kelly’s parents’ only grandkids, and my dad’s only grandsons.”
The situation also doesn’t seem fair to several other gays and lesbians raising children in Utah. In the wake of House Bill 318, which seeks to amend Utah law so unmarried couples of all orientations can adopt, several of them have contacted QSaltLake to share their stories.
Two Children, Two Different Laws
Like Kaye and Kelley, Ruth Hackford-Peer and her partner Kim Hackford-Peer are the parents of two boys, six-year-old Riley and toddler Casey. But Utah law is affecting them in an entirely different way.
“We have two little ones who don’t have same protections and I don’t have the same responsibilities to both of them n the eyes of the law, which seems really unfair to us as parents and to them as siblings as brothers,” Kim explains.
Because Riley was born in Massachusetts where gays are allowed to adopt his non-biological mother Kim is considered his legal parent no matter where she goes. But their second child, born after the couple moved to Utah, has only one legal parent.
“If I were to die, Kim would legally get Riley and my parents could very easily try to get Casey, which would mean the brothers wouldn’t even be together,” Ruth says. “It just seems ridiculous to me that this state what purports to be so much about family supports such a terrible law that hurts families so much.”
Before Casey’s birth, Ruth says that she, Riley and her partner would celebrate what they called “Family Day” to mark the anniversary of Riley’s conception by artificial insemination. But when Casey was born, Ruth said they decided to stop celebrating that because, legally, they were no longer a family.
“Riley’s six and has an understanding that in eyes of the law he and mommy Ruth and mommy Kim are a family and he and Casey and mommy Ruth are a family. He worries about that a lot,” Ruth says. “It’s very frustrating for him because it doesn’t seem fair.”
Ruth also said it isn’t fair to Utah tax payers. After losing her job last September, she was no longer had health insurance for the children. While Kim, who is pursuing a PhD, is able to put Riley on her health insurance, Casey remains uninsured.
“Which means taxpayers foot the bill when he gets sick,” Ruth explains.
And, Kim points out, if she ever decided to leave her partner, Ruth would be stuck footing all of the bills for Casey because, legally Kim has no rights over their younger child and therefore no responsibilities.
No Rights, No Responsibilities
Ann Lovato has faced the same situation Kim describes. When she and her partner decided to have a child together, Utah law still allowed gay and lesbian partners to adopt. As Lovato explains it, they had planned to put their child on her partner’s health insurance because Lovato, who runs a home day-care business, was self-employed.
But six weeks before their son was born, Lovato said her partner walked out leaving her to raise the child alone. Today, she and eight-year-old Jacob share a two bedroom apartment and struggle to make ends meet. And Utah law, she says, does not hold her ex financially responsible for the child she agreed to parent.
Lovato says it’s not just a matter of her son not having the security of a two parent home or enough money for the things he wants to do; it’s a matter of what happens when he needs a check up or gets hurt, as little boys tend to do.
“He broke his jaw at school in September and here he is getting his X-ray and I’m thinking, ‘I don’t have insurance, I don’t qualify for CHIP.’” Lovato remembers.
Although Lovato says her family and her son’s donor have helped her with some expenses, she said they wouldn’t have to if Utah law held all parents accountable regardless of their sex.
“The whole thing for me … is there are so many children being born within last eight years [since gay adoption was banned] that don’t have what all the other kids have, they don’t have two legal parents. I think there’s a lot of not necessarily anger, but irritation for me that my ex- would prefer to bring a child into world and walk away. I know that fathers do that all the time but they’re held accountable.”
“It happens a lot,” she continues. “There are other moms like me that have had to do the same thing. They are quiet about it. I think part of it is you’re so overwhelmed with the time consumption of it – even going grocery shopping by yourself with a screaming toddler is an ordeal.”
But she says she is speaking out now for her child’s future.
“I see him as the picture of the new gay rights movement,” she says. “It’s not for our own personal safety or legal rights, it’s for our children and for me that’s even more important than ourselves.”
Fighting for Rights
As HB 318 gets ready to be heard in committee, and possibly brought to the floor for House and Senate debate, the parents say they will do everything they can to let legislators – and Utah citizens – know how the current law hurts their families.
Kaye says is writing to her state representatives and encouraging family, friends and even co-workers to do the same.
“I try not to take political things to work but in this case I felt I had to,” she says.
Lovato says she will bring her son to rallies at the state capitol.
“He loves those kinds of things,” she says. “He’s really interested in how the government works.”
Perhaps most poignantly, Ruth says Riley found a way of his own to participate.
“He’s going to make a sign that says, ‘protect my baby brother,’” she says. “Clearly, this is something that’s on his mind.”
Ultimately, one of the things that Kaye says is on her mind and her partners a lot lately is the disconnect between what legislators who oppose HB 318 say about gay parents and how other parents in their community treat them.
Kaye says that doctors and nurses at LDS Hospital treated Kelley with “the same respect as a straight couple” when Kaye was in labor with the twins, letting her slip into the room whenever she needed to. She also said her neighbors – most of whom are Mormon – treat them kindly, even helping them with snow shoveling and babysitting.
And, she says, one neighbor in particular would like to see them add a third child to their family.
“He’s so excited, talking about how he’d love for me and his wife to be pregnant at the same time,” she laughs. “These representatives can’t be representing their constituents accurately when their constituents are this excited about lesbian parents having kids.”