As parents, Rick and Jay faced one of the most frightening nightmares any parent could possibly imagine – potentially losing their child. In late 2013, Jay and Rick were approached by friends of the family and asked if they would like to adopt two of their frozen embryos. Humbled and honored by the offer, they accepted, and so began the journey that would bring them Jacob.
After months of legal processes to secure the embryos, they found a wonderful woman in Wisconsin to be their surrogate. Jay and Rick did extensive research and consulted with several WI attorneys who confirmed that the Wisconsin Supreme Court had declared that surrogacy contracts were binding and enforceable.
Yet despite their research, planning – including securing a pre-birth order of parentage from a WI judge – Jay and Rick’s world soon came to a screeching halt. The judge they were originally assigned to had been a temporary one and when the new judge, appointed by the Wisconsin Governor, took the bench he vacated the pre-birth order of parentage and assigned a Liberty Counsel associated Guardian ad Litem (GAL) to determine what was in “the best interests of the child.” Jacob’s first year of life, which should have been one of love, discovery, and joy for this family instead turned into an unimaginable nightmare. The new judge severed the gestational surrogate’s parental rights but refused to recognize Jay and Rick as Jacob’s parents, leaving Jacob in the vulnerable position of having no legal ties to any family. While the judge left in place a temporary order of custody which allowed Jacob to remain with Jay, Rick and their family during a potential appeal, Jacob was now an orphan in the eyes of the law.
Jay and Rick’s story has a happy ending. After several more months of procedural maneuvering, their case was assigned to yet another judge for re-hearing. Within a matter of weeks, the judge vacated the previous decision, which he denounced as “harsh,” “faulty” and “weird” and contained “manifest error” of law. He then restored the original order which awarded Jay and Rick full parental rights. Jacob is now safely in his forever home with his two dads and two older sisters.
Although their year-long ordeal was emotionally gut-wrenching, Rick and Jay are lucky. They had the tools and support they needed to fight for their son. But their story is not unique. LGBTQ parents face hurdles in creating their families far too often and most do not have the resources to fight. Family Equality has spent more than 35 years changing attitudes and policies to ensure that all families are respected, loved, and celebrated. At Jay and Rick’s request, we have established Jacob’s Fund so that other families do not have to live through the same nightmare that they and their family had to endure. Every dollar contributed to this special fund will be used to help us change not just laws and policies, but also hearts and minds.