Capitol Beat Special Wedding Issue

First Comes Love; Then Comes Marriage; Next Comes The Baby Carriage

Linda Pentz
Written by Linda Pentz
Michael Bobbitt and husband Craig Hanna are parents of an adopted son from Vietnam.  Bobbitt, a former professional dancer, is Producing Artistic Director of Maryland-based Adventure Theatre/MTC, a local children’s theatre and training academy.  As such, he has a keen eye for drama.  (Full disclosure: my 15-year old daughter, also adopted from Vietnam, is one of his students.)

After a recent — and lately rather more frequent than he would like — trip with his now teenage son to the emergency room, Bobbitt posted the following exchange on Facebook:

“Explaining my relationship to my adopted Asian son at the emergency room has been like a ‘who’s on first’ vaudeville routine.

Me: I’m his dad. He’s got two dads.
Attendant: Where is his mother?
Me: No mother. Two dads.
Attendant: You are step dad or biological dad?
Me: I’m black, he’s Asian. He was adopted.
Attendant: So where is mother?
Me:…(jazz hands)”

Was this homophobia?  “I honestly don’t think her response came from prejudice,” Bobbitt said.  “I think she just couldn’t quite grasp it.”

Mild puzzlement is generally about as bad as it gets for gay dads in the Greater Washington, DC area, a cosseted environment that is decidedly more socially progressive than many other parts of the country.  However, the curiosity and questions that dog gay dads when they are out in public with their children means, as adoptive father Tony Bonetti put it, “It’s like you constantly have to come out.”

And remain ever vigilant.  Bills are constantly on the move, even in progressive states like Maryland, that aim to revoke LGBT adoption rights.  Adoption laws vary from state to state and two — Mississippi and Utah — forbid LGBT families from adopting altogether.  A burgeoning effort to promote the so-called religious exemption clause to justify discrimination against LGBT adopting parents is another threat and would allow private adoption agencies to turn prospective LGBT parents away.

Despite the pushback, the route to parenthood for gay men still offers plenty of options, and plenty of challenges as well.  In his new book, Journey To Same-Sex Parenthood, Eric Rosswood offers anecdotes and advice on the various pathways that include open adoption; fostering and adopting from foster care; surrogacy; assisted reproduction; and co-parenting.  The book serves as a useful guide and resource but the personal stories also allay commonly-held fears about adopting “someone else’s child.”

The passionately instant bond is described eloquently over and over in Rosswood’s book, perhaps most profoundly by Rob Watson, who adopted a baby at birth born to two heroin addicts.  “The nurse brought my new son over in a blanket and I held him softly on my chest.  I looked into his eyes and we connected.  He was home; I was home.  This was right.  Deep in my heart, I knew this child was my son forever.”

Bonetti and his husband Matt adopted in Connecticut, another progressive state that allowed even unmarried couples to adopt.  Nevertheless, the pair had what he described as a “shotgun civil union” just days after the April birth of their adopted daughter “so we could pursue the adoption jointly.”

The process was expedited by their choice to adopt Bonetti’s cousin’s baby, and the wait for final paperwork, though tense, was fast.  “In October we were granted parental rights and our names both went straight onto the birth certificate,” he said.  The couple subsequently moved to Maryland, deliberately chosen because of its politically and socially progressive environment.

Andrew Gordon and his husband Mike decided against adoption and chose surrogacy with one of them as the biological father, putting them on a protracted, expensive, and sometimes nerve-racking path to the birth of their daughter.  “I learned more about surrogacy than I ever want to know,” said Gordon, a lawyer.

Gordon said they first considered foster care adoption but got “a stack of papers that was more than my security clearance to become a prosecutor.”  International adoptions for same sex parents “were drying up really fast.”  Third party adoption — “produce your slick brochure and sell yourself to a birth mom” — did not appeal.

One odd quirk, Gordon said, was that as a gay male couple they were told they had a higher chance of adopting than a straight couple, “because the birth mother never felt replaced.”  (The other odd quirk was that when it was time to provide sperm for the surrogacy procedure, the clinic produced lesbian porn magazines.  Hello?)

Back in 2001 when Bobbitt and Hanna decided to become parents, options were fewer so they chose overseas adoption.  However, that meant only one of them could apply, representing himself as a single dad.  Despite this, while Hanna was the adopting parent, Bobbitt never felt he had to hide, even in Vietnam.  And he was easily able to readopt their son in Washington DC on their return, where two fathers adopting a child was and is perfectly legal.

The bigger challenge came later, as it still does for many, over the issue of recognizing both fathers as the legal parents of their son.  When Bobbitt and Hanna decided to move to find better public schools, they looked at Virginia.  “But at that time I would have lost my parental rights,” Bobbitt said.

In choosing surrogacy, Gordon and his partner had to confront the potentially difficult decision about who the biological father would be.  “We didn’t do rock, paper, scissors,” he laughed.  “We agreed early on who it would be.”  Telling their daughter, now four, is on hold.  “She has asked us already who’s tummy she came out of, and she has met her mother several times.  She just doesn’t know it’s her mother,” Gordon said.

Unlike Gordon and Bonetti with daughters, Bobbitt knew his son might be the victim of taunts that having two gay dads would make him gay.  “Some kids tease him but his response is ‘I get to do dad things twice,’” said Bobbitt, who is relieved that, “It has not caused him the trauma I thought it was going to.”

Bonetti and Gordon are acutely aware of the privileged environment we all enjoy in the region.  Gordon found his daughter’s pre-school was highly sensitive to mixed families. “They don’t have ‘mommy and me’ they have ‘muffins and me,’” he said.  “And on Father’s day, they let her make two of everything instead of one.”

But Bonetti thinks that even the progressive Montgomery County schools could do more.  “At all the schools Audrey’s been to, there’s never been an assembly on family diversity and I’m beginning to feel compelled to make something like that happen,” he said.

Hostility toward gay parents is founded in ignorance and unsupported by the facts.  As the Human Rights Campaign states: “the literature on outcomes for children of same-sex parents is marked by scientific consensus that they experience ‘no differences’ compared to children from other parental configurations.”

Bobbitt feels so surrounded by diversity that he says he sometimes forgets that he is gay and black and that his son is Asian and adopted.  “Seeing many more kids in everyday life who have families like mine is pretty remarkable,” he said of the societal changes he has observed since adopting his son 14 years ago.  “It used to be you had to join a group or a list but now you see them everywhere.”

As Duke Nelson writes in Rosswood’s book, dads should just be allowed to be dads.  “I guess this is the reason I want to share our story, to help others who want the same and don’t see their reflection in their own families or community.  I want them to learn from our mistakes, to exist and be visible, so we can all just be dads and not ‘gay’ dads.”

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