Raymond Moya hopes you’ll take his story as a cautionary tale.
Not the part about the cancer, because he could have done nothing to prevent it. He means the part about the adoption, the divorce and his years-long battle to regain recognition as the father of his three children.
It began on an early summer day in 2007 when with his partner Byron Vasquez he was pushing a stroller carrying his two newly-adopted daughters on the way to a niece’s dance recital. Identical twins Jasmine and Jacquie, born three months early, had just been released from the neonatal intensive care unit. “Suddenly I lost a lot of energy,” said Moya, now 43. “They diagnosed me with multiple myeloma, stage-4 bone cancer, and told me I had three weeks to live.”
His biggest concern in those earliest, uncertain days was living to see his girls’ first birthday – and whether the couple would be able to keep them. “We were scared to tell the social worker because we were afraid she'd take the kids,” he said. “But she said, ‘No, these are your kids.’ She told us that what would be better is that they take me off, because I was terminally ill and there was no way it would go through.”
Her suggestion made sense. “We discussed it and we weren't too worried about the legalities as long as we had the kids in our lives. So I dropped off the adoption and Byron proceeded with the adoption as a single parent.”
Even so, to the girls, he was Papa. And Moya didn’t die; in fact, thanks he believes to his doctor and an aggressive treatment plan, he not only made it to the girls’ first birthday but also was feeling better every day. The adoption, in Vasquez’ name, was finalized in July of 2008. It was a giddy summer, just two months after the California Supreme Court had ruled that excluding same-sex couples from marriage violated their rights under the state constitution, and thousands of couples were tying the knot. Moya and Vasquez joined them on August 30. Vasquez and the girls took Moya’s surname.
Shortly after voters approved Proposition 8, which put an end to the weddings but left some 18,000 same-sex couples still married, the Moyas were approached to take part in a video for Freedom to Marry, and in 13 Love Stories, a UCLA documentary project. They also found themselves getting more deeply involved in the fight to overturn Prop 8, at one point even going door to door canvassing with civil rights icon Dolores Huerta.
“When we did that it took off with the media,” said Moya. “We started doing a lot of Spanish language media because Byron speaks Spanish. Whenever there was a decision on Prop 8, they'd come to our house. We broke a lot of stereotypes: two Latinos that weren't like your ‘typical’ gay persons ... of course, what's a typical gay person?”
But by this time, the fracture lines in their relationship were becoming more and more apparent to both Moyas, even as they began to work with a reality TV crew on a pilot, “The Boys Next Door.” In spite of working with the family daily in their home for most of 2009, the show never aired. And after nearly eight years together, the two were drifting farther apart as their priorities diverged.
“When I first met Byron, I had a plan; I was 30 years old, I had my career, I had traveled, I wanted to settle down and [have] kids by the time I was 35,” said Moya. “When we met, he was 29, six years younger than I was, and one of the things that attracted me was that he wanted the same things I did.”
But in early 2010, unexpectedly, they were presented with an opportunity to expand their family. “One of our friends came to us and told us that his cousin was pregnant and didn't want the baby. We talked about it, and said 'yeah,' we both really wanted a boy. And we thought maybe this will help our marriage.”
For a brief period, it seemed to work. Their son, JakePreston, was born in February of 2010. Moya, still not working and receiving chemotherapy, was able to spend three hours a day bonding with the new baby.
Then, after eight years together, Byron moved out anyway.
At first, their split was amicable. Moya and the children moved to a new house in Pasadena. “At that time we had agreed on paper that he would have the kids full time and I would have them part time because he was going through the adoption with Jake, but the reality was they were with me full time.”
But Moya was still not on any adoption documents.
That situation continued until 2013, when Moya was again diagnosed with cancer, this time in his skull and legs. His health forced him to quit his job as a political field coordinator; unable to work, the bank foreclosed on his home and he was unable to pay his nanny. He estimates paying some $150,000 in out-of-pocket medical costs. The kids moved in with Byron, and that’s when the problems started. At issue was the time Moya spent at Byron’s house.
"When they were with me, he was a weekend dad, but I was totally different; I still wanted to be at their school, at meetings, and just because they’re not living with me, I was still going to be there. I was at his house, getting them ready for school, combing their hair, and he was okay with that.
But Byron’s new partner was not.
“We remained friends through the divorce; we had a really good working relationship when it came to the kids,” said Moya. “But things started changing when the kids moved in with him because his partner, who he'd been with since we broke up in 2010, didn't realize we were still such good friends.”
The simmering issues between Raymond, Byron and his current partner boiled over when Moya voiced his disagreement with Byron's partner's parenting style. Byron's reaction was swift.
“So he stopped the kids from seeing me and started saying that I wasn't on the adoption, trying to take anything I had with the kids away from me,” said Moya. “I didn't get to see the girls for three months and Jake for six months."
Moya believes that part of the reason for the discrepancy was that the two were married when the adoption with the girls was finalized. Jake’s adoption did not go through until the couple was already divorced.
Moya’s attorney argued that because the couple was married when both adoptions began, a presumption of parenthood existed even though Moya was on none of the documents. In the case of opposite-sex couples, the presumption of parenthood automatically confers parental status upon the spouse of the child’s biological mother if the mother is married to her spouse at the time the child is born. In Moya’s case, a judge agreed. But legal experts say that the concept is largely untested in cases of same-sex parents and that it generally doesn’t apply in adoptions.
“When couples adopt, neither of them is giving birth, so the marital presumption usually does not apply,” said Jaime Huling Delaye, staff attorney at the National Center for Lesbian Rights. “Instead, the parent-child relationship is created by the adoption itself. If only one parent in a couple is adopting, there may be other laws that protect the non-adoptive parent’s relationship with the child, but that is not always the case.”
Moya knows he was lucky and so would have made sure his name was on the adoption forms if he had known how things would turn out.
“I trusted him,” he said. “It wasn't pressing, because I trusted Byron and never thought he would have done something like that because we worked together so well even after the divorce. I never would have dreamed in a million years that he'd do that to me.”
But Huling Delaye says that the possibility of a divorce is just one reason a parent needs to be sure his or her rights are legally protected. “We still advise parents who have not adopted their children and are not biologically related to their children to seek an adoption or other court order confirming their parentage,” she said. Court orders must be recognized in all 50 states under the full faith and credit clause of the United States Constitution and are the most protective step a parent can take to secure their relationship with their child.”
Moya says that while he’s not yet in remission, his condition continues to improve. The same is true about his relationship with his ex-husband, and he hopes for the sake of the children that they once again reach a working accord. But he knows that whatever happens between them, he won’t allow himself again to be pushed out of his children’s lives.
“When I gave Byron the kids, I gave up at that point on life. But after all this, I know the kids still need me, and I'm going to be here. It gave me a new perspective; no one is ever going to take Papa's place.”