Jason and Joe, a gay couple living in Dallas, fell in love and knew immediately they wanted to build a life together. But the couple’s dreams would be challenged by bigotry and bias against same-sex families.
They worked with a surrogate to each biologically father one of their twins. At first, neither Jason nor Joe were listed as fathers on either of their sons’ birth certificates. They petitioned a judge in Fort Worth to add each of their names to their biological sons’ birth certificates and to cross-adopt, or second-parent adopt, the boys, but were denied by the judge twice. After working with three lawyers, they were able to move their case to the jurisdiction of a judge who gave them parental rights.
Their story explores what is at stake for LGBTQ families when judges and lawmakers but their personal beliefs over family equality. Watch below:
Jason: What do you have?
Twins: A suitcase.
Jason: And where are you going?
New Speaker: To Mickey’s castle.
Jason: Oh, why are you going? Is it for your birthday?
New Speaker: Yeah.
Jason: I think our house is just like any other house with kids. There’s a lot of love, there’s a lot of hugs, there’s a lot of smiles. Then there’s a lot of mess, the toys are everywhere, food is on the floor. We’re just another family.
Twins: R-E-D red R-E-D red, fire trucks are red. Fire trucks are red.
New Speaker: R-E-D red R-E-D red, fire trucks are red. Fire trucks are red.
Jason: One of the first questions that we had for each other was do you want kids? And it was a “Yes,” without hesitation. We got engaged in May of 2012. We were already in the process of planning kids at that point, but we didn’t have a specific timeline. One evening a friend of ours who had gone through surrogacy had invited us to dinner with the wife of a fertility doctor that he had used, and so we sat and talked to her, and like, “We want to have kids and go through surrogacy,” and within a week she had paired us with a surrogate.
Joe: Then it was the realization of, “Oh crap. We’re going to have a baby soon and we’re not married. So we need to get this wedding moving too.”
Jason: We ended up doing two weddings, because this was before marriage equality. We had a small DC wedding and then we had our religious ceremony in Dallas.
Joe: When the boys were born we were able to be in the rooms, and we had cameras there too, we were ready.
Jason: And she pulls Ethan out and she’s holding him up for a photo op. “Alright, quick picture, quick picture.” And then she pulled Lucas out, “Alright, picture, picture.” Being there holding our boys, it was by far the most precious moments.
Joe: After our boys were born, the way Texas law works is that the surrogate immediately went onto the birth certificate, which is also and interesting thing because our surrogate happened to be a black lady, and so our two little boys birth certificates said they were also black. We worked with our attorney and we had our whole plan to go to the local courthouse to then transfer our names onto the birth certificate and get the surrogate removed. We had all the paperwork, we even had DNA testing saying these are our kids, the surrogate has no biological ties and she wishes to grant her full parental rights to us. We walked into that courtroom confident, thought, “This is an easy deal,” and the judge, her comment to us was, “Based on the information in front of me, I just can’t get there.”
Jason: Meaning she could not grant us parental rights of our own kids. So after a few minutes of back and forth with the judge, our attorney was like, “Understood.” He looked at us and said, “It’s over. It’s time to go.” So we had our boys and we walked out of that courtroom in awe. The state that we love let us down.
Joe: They left us in a weird limbo state of, “Now what do we do?”
Jason: You had a surrogate who denied all parental rights and terminated those, and yet we had temporary custody. So we were always concerned that what if someone wanted to knock on our door and take our kids away.
Jason: Can you tell me what is today? It’s your first day of what?
Twins: Pre K.
Jason: And you guys are how old?
Jason: Four? Shall we go meet our new class?
Jason: A lot of amazing organizations, such as Family Equality Council, reached out and provided the direction to get us full parental rights of our kids. With the guidance of FEC we went to a different court and it was a much different process. We were anticipating going into the courtroom. The judge took us back into her chambers and then she asked a question.
Joe: She didn’t ask about DNA or anything like that. She only asked about why do you want to adopt these kids?
Jason: Because we love them. They’re our kids. We took a couple of pictures with the attorney and with the judge, and then we took our boys, walked out of that courthouse and we came home.
Jason: I think we always took it head on, and it was always important to us to share our journey. We’ve had a lot of people reach out to us and say, “Thank you. We now see that it is possible for us to have a family as a gay man.” We teach our boys that you can have one mom, you can have two dads, you can have two dads, you can have one dad. Learning to accept people for who they are, it’s absolutely critical that our boys grow up in that type of environment. The most important thing is family. Those moments, that time with your children, you can’t replace it. The bedtime routine is by far one of my most favorite. They’re in bed, they’re sleepy, but you always get a night-night hug and you get a night-night kiss, and it caps off the entire day.