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Gay families — a more familiar sight

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The gay and lesbian rights movement has made great strides in New York in recent years. Under the Marriage Equality Act, passed by the state legislature and signed by Gov. Cuomo, same-sex marriage became legal in New York on July 24, 2011.

Two years later, the movement won a national victory on June 26, 2013, when the United States Supreme Court ruled that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act — a 1996 law that denies legally married same-sex couples more than 1,100 protections and responsibilities of marriage — was unconstitutional. By striking it down, the Supreme Court affirmed that all committed couples who marry deserve equal, legal respect and treatment.

As more and more states legalize gay marriage, U.S. citizens are growing accustomed to seeing same-sex couples and their families. I interviewed three gay, married men with children, who live in different areas of New York City, to find out how these changes have impacted their lives. I asked all of them the same set of questions and got some very thought-provoking answers.

Howard and Darren

Howard May lives with his husband, Darren Rosenblum, and 4-year-old daughter in Manhattan’s Chelsea, where many gay and lesbian couples live. Howard was born in Forest Hills and grew up in Long Island. He is a psychologist who helps both gay and straight patients deal with a variety of mental health issues.

Howard and Darren had their daughter through gestational surrogacy, in which one woman is the egg provider and another woman carries the fetus. Although they all live in different parts of the country, Howard and his husband are still in contact with their egg donor and surrogate.

Howard and his family have traveled overseas and lived in Seattle before settling in Chelsea.

“We have not suffered overt harassment, although we have received uncomfortable stares at times,” observed Howard.

Other than an occasional question, he says his daughter has never been teased by her classmates for having two fathers. But, the father does say he has a “heightened awareness for possible danger” after there were six recorded incidences of “gay-bashing” last summer in New York City, in which the victims were badly beaten and one man was shot to death by a homophobic gunman.

Of course, words can hurt, too, and Howard says there’s one insensitive query that he and his husband are asked “a lot”: “‘Who is the biological father of our child?’

“It doesn’t annoy us, because we discussed it in advance and came up with an answer, which is that we’re both her parents,” said Howard. “We don’t really want to identify [the sperm donor], because we don’t want people to think one of us is more of a parent than the other. It’s really not important. When it’s important for our daughter to know, she’ll know.”

The subject that Howard speaks most positively about are the new opportunities for him and his family, thanks to the change in Defense of Marriage Act legislation.

“Now that DOMA has been found unconstitutional, we can file a joint federal income tax return. We also now have the comfort of knowing that when we do die, our assets can pass to the other without tax burden,” Howard explained. “It is so significant that our federal government is saying that anti-gay dehumanization won’t be tolerated. The emotional implications of this are immeasurab­le.”

Boaz and Gal

The next person I spoke with was Boaz Adler, who was born and raised in Israel. He moved to Chicago, where his father was living, when he was 18. Boaz is married and he and his husband, Gal Adler, adopted a boy from Guatemala, who is now 8 years old. They also adopted an infant boy from Florida last December, and he is now almost a year old. Boaz is studying for his master’s degree while his husband works for the federal government. Since the historic Supreme Court ruling, Boaz now receives many benefits from the federal government that were once only granted to married couples, such as medical insurance and survivor benefits.

Boaz and his family live in Forest Hills, Queens, which is a predominantly straight community.

“We feel very comfortable living here,” said Boaz. “We feel that we’re part of the community. We don’t see ourselves as any different.”

When asked how he would feel if his family moved to another area of the country, he answered, “We used to live in Texas, and we would travel all over the South, and I never felt persecuted in any way. I don’t know if it’s just my kind of narrow tunnel vision of the world, ‘Hey, it’s just who I am,’ but people don’t care or care enough to bother me.”

Boaz finds that most kids are just inquisitive, and since his older son doesn’t talk a lot about having two dads, Boaz answers a lot of his friends’ questions about their family. He does believe, however, that his son has been teased by other children.

“When my son was 4 or 5, a girlfriend came to our home and said sort of tauntingly, ‘Well, you don’t have a mom,’ and my son paused for a moment, and I stopped breathing. Then he said, ‘But I have two dads. You barely see your dad, because he’s at work, but I have two dads.’ That was his response. It wasn’t something I manipulated in any way, but it made my heart swell.”

William and Estevan

Lastly, I interviewed William Sherr, who was born in Georgia and grew up in Texas. While living in Texas, he was a school teacher for the Dallas Independent School District. After William married 13 years ago, he and his husband, Estevan Garcia, decided to have children. His husband adopted their first son, but the state of Texas would not allow a joint adoption, so William researched areas where joint adoptions were possible. Eventually, they moved to Washington State, where William was able to adopt their son as well.

William and his husband later moved to Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn, close to Park Slope, where many gay and lesbian families live. William now has three children — a 13 year old, an 11 year old, and a 6 year old. Two of his children were adopted, while one joined his family through foster care. Estevan is employed as a pediatric emergency physician at a hospital while William stays home and takes care of the kids, but he also runs a business from his home that caters to the needs of gay and lesbian families.

William has health insurance from Estevan’s employer, but in the past, he had to pay tax on its imputed value. Because of the change in laws, the hospital recently announced that all domestic partner benefits would be converted to spousal benefits.

Since William has been a stay-at-home parent for the last 13 years, he hasn’t been able to contribute to his Individual Retirement Account during his unemployment years. Now that William is federally recognized as a spouse, he can contribute to his IRA, regardless of his income.

When William travels with his family, they sometimes encounter people asking inappropriate questions of his children, such as where their mother is or if they are really brothers and sisters. Since William and his husband’s children have different birth families, they do not resemble each other.

“It doesn’t happen so much here in New York, but more when we travel, we get questions like that.”

William says he enjoys living in Brooklyn, because his children’s school in nearby Park Slope is so friendly to his family. He thinks it would be difficult for his family to live anywhere else.

“I do think our children have been bullied and harassed a few times, and I think our school has stepped up and eradicated the problem. If I have an issue with the school, I can go to the administration, and I know the administration is going to be on my side. They’re not going to side with the bully. They’re not going to side with someone’s belief that my family is wrong. If we lived in another community, I don’t know if we would have that luxury.”

As advocates of adopting and fostering children, William and his husband have fostered more than 20 children in their home over the years.

His advice to gay and lesbian couples who are considering becoming parents?

“It’s not nearly as difficult as you think,” said William. “I would advise them to think about adoption and foster adoption and think about trying to help all the kids out there that don’t have a home that need a home.”

Allison Plitt is a freelance writer who lives in Queens with her husband and young daughter. She is a frequent contributor to New York Parenting.

Updated 4:38 pm, December 9, 2016
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