Gay Dad Life

Making a Federal Case Out of It

Heroism comes in all shapes and sizes, and often when you least expect it.

David Michener, for instance, did not have heroism in mind when he lost the love of his life, suddenly becoming a single parent overnight to three young children. The experience was traumatic. But it would also land him in the Supreme Court and ultimately in a place of honor in the chronicles of LGBTQ equality.

“I didn’t do it to make history,” David tells Gays With Kids. “I did it to prove it is okay to stand up for your rights.”

In the Beginning

This story begins rather unremarkably, and to 2017 readers, anachronistically.

“We met in an America Online chat room in 1996,” David says, recalling first-contact with his future husband, Bill Ives. “The funny thing is Bill and I talked on our first date about children. I said I wanted to be a father, and Bill was like ‘So do I!’ We knew we could get along.”

And get along they did. Holding a commitment ceremony in 1999, their first child, Anna, showed up (albeit eight weeks prematurely) in 2000, followed by sons Jackson in 2002 (who, unlike his sister, was three weeks late), and Michael in 2012. While the first two were direct adoptions through an agency in Louisiana, Michael perhaps symbolized a precursor to the do-the-right-thing mentality that would later show up in the highest court in the land.

“Bill and I decided we wanted more children,” David explains, “but we didn’t want to go through adoption again. We wanted to start taking kids out of the foster care system. For Michael, it was time — he was almost three.”

At which point, all five fell into the rhythms of family life in Yardley, PA, just north of Philadelphia. Then came Bill’s transfer to Ohio.

The Coming Storm

In February of 2009, Bill moved to Wyoming, outside Cincinnati. The couple decided that David would remain in Yardley, however, while Anna finished 4th grade and Jack completed 2nd. Then, the family would reunite again in Ohio.

Living in the Midwest, they weren't oblivious to their vulnerable legal status as same-sex adoptive parents. So the two obtained every legal document they could think of---from power of attorney to disposition of bodies---to provide protections for their family. They also began to talk about marriage.

“As we became familiar with the politics of the Midwest we decided to marry and protect the family,” recalls David. When Delaware passed same-sex marriage legislation in 2013, it was kismet.

“Our vacation house was in Lewes,” David explains, a town just north of the gay Mecca of Rehoboth Beach. “Since I spent the summers there with the kids, it was a perfect reason to do it, even though Ohio would not recognize it. Our family was able to remain intact if something were to happen to either of us. The kids were protected.”

Sucker Punch

Many a funny wedding story involves one of the parties getting sick, and in July 2013, when Bill teetered down the aisle with a 104°-fever, everyone assumed he was soldiering through a dazzlingly badly-timed flu. What no one knew, several doctors included, was that Bill was in the early stages of a bacterial infection that ravaged his system from the inside out. It wasn’t until a marathon 18-hour surgery that a proper diagnosis finally came to light, but it was too late. Bill Ives passed away August 27.

And if the shock of loosing his husband just 37 days after marrying him wasn’t bad enough, “my cell phone is going off during the entire funeral,” David says. “And it’s a lawyer advising me that my name isn’t going on the death certificate as Bill’s spouse unless we went to court.”

He may have been married in Delaware, but Bill died in Ohio. By 2013, only 12 American states had same-sex marriage laws on the books, whereas many more had laws for just the opposite; Ohio proved particularly vitriolic. In 2004, Governor Bob Taft signed Ohio’s Defense of Marriage Act into law, banning same-sex marriage within the state and prohibiting acknowledgement of any performed outside it. To boot, included was the clause denying “statutory benefits of legal marriage to nonmarital relationships,” such as spousal recognition on death certificates, for example.

The Battle Is Joined

“Ohio treated me like a 2nd-class citizen,” says David simply, and the mild-mannered business analyst had his Incredible Hulk moment. “We got an injunction so that my name could be on the death certificate and Bill would be buried as legally married. We won that.”

But Republican powers in Columbus, in the form of Governor (and later GOP presidential candidate) John Kasich were far from done. A series of suits, countersuits, wins and losses followed, finally culminating in David amalgamating his case with others into what would become the pivotal Supreme Court case of Obergefell v. Hodges. 

Their argument hinged on the Fourteenth Amendment, which mandates all American citizens have equality under the law. For David, this meant that his marriage to Bill should be seen as lawfully licensed, even if performed out-of-state. David was determined his husband be buried not only with dignity, but also as a married man.

“It was living hell,” he recounted of the legal proceedings. Nonetheless, on June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court passed a 5 – 4 vote in favor of David and his co-plaintiffs, requiring all states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and to recognize same-sex marriages validly performed in other jurisdictions. Along with United States v. Windsor, the case guaranteed marriage equality in the United States.

David was in Disney World with his family when the verdict came down.

“We had been so stressed we needed to get away,” he says. “I was out having fun with the kids, which I would have preferred anyway.”

Case Closed

Now residing in Lewes, David, 55, stresses that however he may be perceived in the annals of LGBTQ history, he is a father first. But to his kids, he's both. 

“Being a part of a Supreme Court case was very interesting,” says 17-year-old Anna, who was in court along with her father. “I learned a lot about the issues facing the country as well as how our government works. Going from a tourist looking at the Supreme Court to being the one walking out those doors was an experience unlike any other.”

What better civics lesson could you get than to help transform American society, and LGBTQ rights, for the better?


For More on LGBTQ Family Advocacy Read:

Dads that Became Leaders in the Fight for Marriage Equality

Juan and Tom, Heroes in the Fight for Marriage Equality

How the Gays Stole Easter: Remembering the 2006 White House Easter Egg Roll

Show Comments ()
Gay Dad Family Stories

These Dads Had 'Twins' — Just Four Months Apart

Angel and Dan's wanted twins, without the complications of a twin pregnancy — so they worked with two separate surrogates at once.

If you have ever been out late on a Saturday night, you may have high hopes of meeting a handsome stranger, but you probably wouldn't expect to meet your future husband. Angel Mario Martinez Garcia, 45, surely didn't when, five years ago on a very early Saturday morning in Barcelona, he casually approached Dan's Mouquet, 40, and asked him, over many gin and tonics, what he wanted out of life. The nightlife setting notwithstanding, Dan's told Angel he ultimately wanted a quiet life, with a partner and children.

Keep reading... Show less
Personal Essays by Gay Dads

Just Like Dad: Ways My Kids and I Are Alike

Joseph Sadusky recounts the ways he and his adopted sons are cut from the same cloth.

Editor's Note: This is the third in a series of excerpts from Joseph Sadusky's new book, Magic Lessons: Celebratory and Cautionary Tales about Life as a (Single, Gay, Transracially Adoptive) Dad. The book contains many stories about my life as a dad, as well as lessons learned, and we're excited to share several excerpts from the the book over the course of the next few months. Read previous installments here!

Keep reading... Show less
Gay Dad Life

10 of Our Most Popular Posts Featuring Single Gay Dads

Happy Single Parent's Day! To celebrate, we rounded up some of our most popular articles featuring single gay dads.

Did you know March 21st is Single Parents Day? Well now you do, and you should mark the occasion by checking out our round up of some of our most popular articles featuring single gay dads!

Keep reading... Show less
Politics

Gestational Surrogacy Legalized in New York State

The Child-Parent Security Act, which legalizes commercial surrogacy in New York State, was included in the 2020 New York State Budget signed by Governor Cuomo

Yesterday, a years-long battle about the state of compensated gestational surrogacy came to an end in New York when the Governor signed into a law the Child-Parent Security Act in the 2020 as part of the state budget.

The effort stalled last year after opponents, including several Democrats, successfully argued that the bill didn't go far enough to protect women who serve as surrogates — even though it included a surrogate "bill of rights," the first of its kind in the country, aimed at ensuring protections.

"Millions of New Yorkers need assistance building their families — people struggling with infertility, cancer survivors impacted by treatment, and members of the LGBTQ+ community," the Family Equality Council said in a statement about the victory. "For many, surrogacy is a critically important option. For others, it is the only option. Passage of the Child-Parent Security Act is a massive step forward in providing paths to parenthood for New Yorkers who use reproductive technology, and creates a 'surrogate's bill of rights' that will set a new standard for protecting surrogates nationwide."

Opponents, led by Senator Liz Krueger, had once again attempted to torpedo legalization efforts this year by introducing a second bill that would legalize surrogacy in New York, but also make it the most restrictive state in the country to do so. "A bill that complicates the legal proceedings for the parents and potentially allows them to lose their genetic child is truly unfortunate," said Sam Hyde, President of Circle Surrogacy, referencing to the bill's 8-day waiting period. He also took issue with the bills underlying assumptions about why women decide to serve as a surrogate. The added restrictions imply that "they're entering into these arrangements without full forethought and consideration of the intended parents that they're partnering with," he said.

The bill was sponsored by State Senator Brad Hoylman, an out gay man who became a father via surrogacy, and Assemblymember Amy Paulin, who has been public with her experiences with infertility.

"My husband and I had our two daughters through surrogacy," Holyman told Gay City News. "But we had to travel 3,000 miles away to California in order to do it. As a gay dad, I'm thrilled parents like us and people struggling with infertility will finally have the chance to create their own families through surrogacy here in New York."

"This law will [give intended parents] the opportunity to have a family in New York and not travel around the country, incurring exorbitant costs simply because they want to be parents," Paulin said for her part. It will "bring New York law in line with the needs of modern families."


Expert Advice

4 Tips for Single Gay Dads Raising Daughters

Here are some ways to create a safe space for your daughter to discover who she is, with you by her side.

There's nothing quite like father-daughter relationships, and when it comes to single dads, your little girl likely holds a very special place in your heart. From the moment she's born, it's as if you can see every moment of her life in front of you, from her first steps to walking her down the aisle at her wedding. You'll be the first man she'll know and talk to, and you'll be her biggest example of what a loving man looks like. She'll come to you for advice on how to navigate challenges, be independent, treat others and grow into herself.

Your relationship with your daughter may be shaped by your personal history, whether you've been through a difficult divorce or breakup, you've transitioned out of a straight relationship, or you made the courageous decision to pursue surrogacy on your own. Whatever your situation is, studies have shown that children with involved fathers excel more in school and have fewer behavioral issues in adolescence.

Keep reading... Show less
Change the World

After Suffering a Violent Homophobic Attack, This Gay Dad Turned to Advocacy

After Rene suffered a brutal homophobic attack that left him hospitalized, he and his family have turned to advocacy to heal

Guest post written by Rene and Nejc

We are Rene (35) and Nejc (29) and we come from Slovenia, Europe. I was an avid athlete, a Judoist, but now I am an LGBT activist and Nejc is a writer, who published a gay autobiography called Prepovedano. He was also a participant in a reality show in Slovenia (Bar) and he is an LGBT activist too. Nejc and I met by a mere coincidence on Facebook, and already after the first phone call we realized that we are made for each other. Nejc and I have been together as couple almost one year. We think we have been joined by some energy, as we have both experienced a lot of bad things with previous relationships and now we wish to create and shape our common path.

Keep reading... Show less
Gay Dad Life

What's Life Like as a Single Gay Dad? These Guys Sound Off

We checked in with some of the single gay dads in our community to see what life is like while parenting solo

March 21st is Single Parents Day! To celebrate, we checked in with some single gay men in our community to sound off on what life is like while parenting solo — the good, the challening and everything in between.

Keep reading... Show less

Fatherhood, the gay way

Get the latest from Gays With Kids delivered to your inbox!

Follow Gays With Kids

Powered by RebelMouse