Finding “Happily Ever After”
It’s a tale as old as time: Once upon a time…at a Cher concert…
Kent and Diego Love-Ramirez were sitting in adjacent rows of the “nose-bleed section,” each with their own group of friends when they met. The concert ended without an exchange of contact information, both assuming that was the end, they would go their separate ways never to be heard from again.
The end? Shortest fairy tale of all time!
Except there must have been some sort of fairy godmother looking over them because they ended up at the same club that night. Yet once again, the evening ended without the exchange of information.
“Diego was in town for the concert and, as we were leaving the club, his friend hollered out the name of the hotel where they were staying,” Kent says. In an act that some might call a tad bit stalker, Kent made a move by heading to that hotel. “I took a chance, found his car based on its out-of-state license plate, and put my phone number under his wiper.” Diego called the following day, the two set a date for dinner the following week, and have been together ever since.
That was October 2002. Cut to Christmas Eve 2005. He opened his last present—a box containing the foam outline of a cross-shaped ornament—and was instantly thrown. “Kent sent me on a scavenger hunt to find my final present,” Diego says. He looked up to the tree and found the ornament, placed in the middle of the tree and holding two rings. “He got down on one knee and said, ‘Would you do me the honor of spending the rest of your life with me?’ And I said yes.”
Two years later on December 1, 2007, Kent and Diego had an intimate religious ceremony at the Michigan State University Alumni Chapel surrounded by family and close friends. Their simple ceremony consisted of parents walking them down the aisle, their sisters standing with them as part of a small wedding party, along with their two best friends. At the time, they were attending a Catholic church and weren’t able to have their ceremony at their parish.
Kent, born and raised in Michigan, has always lived within a 30-minute drive of parents, siblings, and large extended family. Diego is from Albuquerque and came to Michigan for aviation school. “He never intended to stay in Michigan,” Kent says, “but we had an immediate and authentic connection, especially related to our core values, commitment to family, and hope for our future.”
Since the ceremony was not recognized as a legal marriage in Michigan—and still isn’t—the couple flew to Washington, DC, with their best man—their son, Lucas—to make their marriage legal on December 7, 2012, beneath what Diego calls “a tacky trellis of fake flowers” at the county courthouse.
Diego says, “We view the 2007 ceremony as our ‘wedding day,’ but it was a wonderful moment when we made it legal in 2012, and all the more special to have our son with us.”
Lucas was born nearly two years earlier, on New Year’s Day of 2011. Working with a small adoption agency in Michigan, Kent and Diego were selected as one of five prospective couples by Lucas’ birth parents. “Ultimately they selected us, and we were fortunate to be included during the pregnancy at doctor’s appointments and in the delivery room,” Diego says. “We both were there when Lucas took his first breaths. I cut the umbilical cord. Kent was the first one to hold him. We left the hospital with him to begin our new life as a family.”
Kent adds, “Lucas is such a blessing. He is a happy, loving kid who is wonderfully inquisitive, imaginative, and easygoing, which makes it possible for us to be out and about, exploring as a family.”
His vibrant nature is evident as Lucas loves music and musical instruments, “reading” and telling stories, and enjoys school and friends. He also enjoys travel, which is something Kent and Diego tried to instill in him from a young age. Even though he is not quite four years old, Lucas has a passport and already has been on over 75 flights to various destinations, whether back to Michigan and New Mexico to see family, or around the country to see friends, or to Central America to see Diego’s grandmother and extended family. Diego is a pilot for Delta Air Lines, which makes frequent travel more feasible for the family.
“One of the highlights of our travels was joining a dozen other families for the White House Father’s Day Lunch hosted by President Obama in the State Dining Room,” Kent says. “We were one of two sets of gay fathers who were in attendance, and were selected in part because of our involvement with Family Equality Council and advocating on behalf of LGBT parents and their kids. Lucas got to high-five and hug the President. It was quite an honor, and we look forward to sharing pictures and video with Lucas when he is older and able to understand the significance of the honor.”
Kent adds, “We had a good life in Michigan with a large support network of family and close friends. We were civically engaged, involved in the arts community, at church, and in our neighborhood.”
So what is a family from Michigan doing in Minneapolis? “Our decision to relocate was a difficult one that came after several years of discussing the possibility,” Diego explains. “After adopting our son, it became harder to accept the uncertainty that came along with not having our marriage legally recognized by the state and not both being recognized as our son’s legal parents, despite being selected as a couple by our son’s birth family and both being present in the delivery room when he was born.”
Their checklist for places to relocate included remaining in the Midwest in a vibrant cosmopolitan city as well as be a direct flight back to Kent’s family in Michigan and Diego’s family in New Mexico.
“We attended two Family Equality Conferences in Minneapolis and watched closely as the state moved toward marriage equality for same-sex couples,” Diego says. “The more we looked at the Twin Cities and the countless Top 10 lifestyle rankings, the more it felt like a possible fit.”
Arriving in the Twin Cities on January 4, 2014, in the midst of the first Polar Vortex, the couple has grown to love the vibrancy and variety of the Twin Cities region. Kent shares, “It’s taken some time to get settled, but we were so fortunate to connect early on with some wonderful new friends who welcomed us and helped get us connected. As a result, we have met some wonderful new friends and other LGBT parents and their kids.”
What does a couple with a child do when they first move to the city? For Kent and Diego, that meant Immediately purchasing memberships to the Minnesota Zoo, the Minnesota Children’s Museum, Edinborough Park, and the YMCA. They’ve taken the time to enjoy the Children’s Theatre Company, Theatre Latté Da, and the local arts scene. Trips to Lake Harriet, the Bandshell, and the Como-Harriet Streetcar were regular excursions this past summer. As the family gears up for their first full Minnesota winter, Kent says, “We’re learning to embrace winter activities and the cold, which is made easier by the blue skies of Minnesota.”
A significant part of the decision to leave Michigan related to the lack of legal recognition for both Kent and Diego as Lucas’s adoptive parents. Only one was able to legally adopt Lucas in Michigan, even though they were selected as a couple by Lucas’s birth parents. Diego says, “The non-adoptive parent was legally a stranger with no rights or recognition, which is extremely unsettling and unfair.”
After relocating to Minnesota, the couple worked with a local attorney to petition the court to waive the one-year residency requirement and secure legal recognition to the non-adoptive parent.
“The process involved a lot of legal fees, paperwork, and patience, but the security we gained for all three of us cannot be overstated,” Diego says. “We had our day in court in early July, after which we flew straight to Disney World to celebrate. No kidding. Just a few weeks ago we received our amended Michigan birth certificate with both of our names as Lucas’s legal parents. Despite still not being able to jointly adopt in Michigan or have our legal marriage recognized, Michigan must honor adoptions performed in other states. Even though the amended birth certificate was largely symbolic, it was a reassuring way to wrap up an uncertain time in our life as a family.”
The process is called something different in each state. It’s called step-parent adoption in Minnesota. In Michigan, it’s called second-parent adoption. Since same-sex couples could not—and still cannot—jointly adopt in Michigan, it become a two-step process that required the couple to have established residency in a state that allowed same-sex couples to both have parental rights of the same child.
While they’ve always been recognized and respected as a family by the people in their life, that level of certainty is a great comfort to Kent and Diego. Diego says, “We have never had direct interaction with anyone who insinuated that we weren’t a family. Yet the legal uncertainty for all three of us was an ever-present, and often unspoken, concern, despite both having incredibly supportive families. I would not say that we now feel more legitimate or more respected as a family, but we certainly feel safer and more secure.”
Moving to Minneapolis, the couple knew there were many GLBT families with children in the Twin Cities. After all, that was a significant variable in their decision to relocate here. “We assumed, in part based on our experience at Family Equality Council conferences, that the community was well-connected and socially active,” Kent says. “Yet, once we got settled and attempted to get connected, we discovered the absence of a formalized community of support.”
As they talked with new friends, they discovered several reasons that might explain this lack of formal support or social groups for GLBT parents. Many families have “mainstreamed” and already have a community of support with their immediate and extended Minnesotan family, many GLBT parents who were socially active in the past now have older kids and established networks and no longer have need for social support, and there really isn’t a gay area in the Twin Cities, so families are geographically dispersed in a variety of neighborhoods.
“The inclusive nature of the Twin Cities is one of its strengths, but as gay men and gay dads, we still find value and relevance in having a sub-community of support,” Kent shares. “There are Facebook groups for Twin Cities queer families and lesbian moms. As I understand it, there was once a gay fathers group, but it was no longer active when we arrived in the Twin Cities.”
So they did what anyone would do: filled the void. Kent and Diego formed the Facebook group, Twin Cities Gay Fathers, in April 2014, a few months after their arrival. Since they didn’t yet have an established network in the Twin Cities, the couple relied on others to help spread the word. Currently, the group boasts 90 members, some with young kids, some with older kids, empty nesters, and dads-to-be. Kent says he does his best to screen requests to join the group to ensure a safe space for members to share stories and photos, seek advice, and socially connect.
“We don’t yet have regularly scheduled social gatherings for the entire group, in part because each gay father is at a different stage of his parenting journey,” Kent adds. “Instead we look to individual members to coordinate meet-ups at various locations like the indoor park this winter, Como Zoo this summer, and cider mills this fall, or a cookie party later this month, based on their needs as a family.”
For the Love-Ramirez family, they’ve enjoyed meeting other gay dads with similar stories, as most gay dads from their community in Michigan had older children from past heterosexual relationships. Kent says, “A wonderful byproduct of the group has been for Lucas to see other families like his. I cannot overstate how heartening it is to hear him say without any prompting that someone ‘has two dads just like me.’”
Coming up on a year since their move to the City of Lakes, the couple has begun exploring other neighborhoods and schools in search of the right fit for their family.
“We still miss our family and friends back in Michigan and elsewhere, and are chipping away at the mysterious mannerism of Minnesota Nice,” Diego says, “but we are hopeful about the future and very appreciative of our new friends and adoptive home here in the Twin Cities. We also are hopeful that we soon will welcome a second child to our family.”
Those without children always question parents: Another child?! But for Kent and Diego, each day is an adventure and blessing. “We only have vague recollection of life pre-Lucas,” Kent says. “Parenting has come naturally to both me and Diego, and it’s enriched us as individuals and strengthened us as a couple. We had very full lives and a sense of purpose prior to Lucas joining our family, but there is something about becoming parents that has filled a void. Parenting isn’t without its challenges. In fact, today was a particularly challenging day for no reason other than Lucas is a typical four-year-old. But when he gives you a big boy bear hug and says ‘Dad, I love you,’ you cannot help melt and love him even more.”