May 9, 2014 | by Mariah Cooper
Double delights
marriage equality, gay news, Washington Blade

Victoria Kidd and Christy Berghoff of Winchester, Va. (Photo courtesy of the ACLU)

Mother’s Day brings double blessings for lesbian parents. But in most of the country, there’s a downside — couples in many states are fighting for the legal protections only available to some same-sex U.S. couples. We asked several couples involved in marriage equality lawsuits — three in Virginia and one in Pennsylvania — what they’ll be doing on Sunday and why the day is special to them.

NAME: Victoria L. Kidd

PARTNER’S NAME: Christy J. Berghoff

OCCUPATION: Writer

KIDS’ NAME(S) AND AGES: Lydia Berghoff-Kidd, 1

CITY/STATE: Winchester, VA

CASE INVOLVED IN: Harris Et Al. V. Rainer et al. (Formerly Harris et al. V. McDonnell et al.)

 

As a lesbian mom, what does Mother’s Day mean to you? Does it have any special significance as an LGBT parent? 

 

I suspect much of what I feel on Mother’s Day is similar to that felt by mothers in opposite-sex relationships or by single mothers. I feel the same humble gratitude for being fortunate enough to be a mother to my daughter. I feel the same sense of thankfulness that my little one is here to share my life with me and to give my life a purpose greater than any other.

The one uniqueness about being a mother involved in a same-sex relationship is that it is a life experience shared with someone you love completely, your wife. In that sense, Mother’s Day takes on a special significance, because the day marks that shared experience and allows you to demonstrate your love and commitment to another person who is equally mother to your child.

 

What is your Mother’s Day tradition? Do you and your partner celebrate it together?

 

Our family is still working to define our traditions, as our daughter is just a little over a year old. Certainly, we both endeavor to show our own mothers that we appreciate them, but as far as celebrating in our home, we more or less simply spend the day together. We share a special meal and have hours of “play time” as a family. For us, celebrating this particular day is not about what you do, it is about sharing time together. Christy and I do exchange cards filled with messages of support, because parenting is not easy. We both simply try to find the words and the ways available to say we love each other, support each other and would not want to share life or the responsibilities of motherhood with anyone else.

 

You’re a plaintiff in a state marriage case — in your own words, please tell us why you feel it’s important for gay families to have legal protections.

 

Our family is built upon love and commitment. Christy and I committed to being each other’s “forever” when we were married in 2011 in D.C., but life is delicate and uncertain. Should anything happen to either of us, we want to ensure the other is afforded the same protections and benefits granted to legally married opposite-sex couples. More importantly, we want our daughter to be fully protected. Protections extend beyond benefits allowed after death; they provide the foundation for greater everyday acceptance in our communities. When people are separated out as somehow different at an institutional level, it makes it easier for others to perceive them, and subsequently to treat them, differently. Gaining protections under law advances the idea that our families should be treated equally and without bias while going about our day-to-day lives.

 

Joanne Harris, Jabari, Jessica Duff, gay news, Washington Blade, Virginia, same-sex marriage, marriage equality

Joanne Harris and Jessica Duff with Jabari. (Photo courtesy of the couple)

NAME: Joanne Harris

PARTNER’S NAME: Jessica Duff

OCCUPATION: Director of diversity and advocacy

KIDS’ NAME(S) AND AGES: Jabari, age 5

CITY/STATE: Staunton, VA

CASE INVOLVED IN: Harris et al vs. Janet Rainey

 

As a lesbian mom, what does Mother’s Day mean to you? Does it have any special significance as an LGBT parent? 

 

Being a mother has been the most rewarding and important experience of our lives, and being Jabari’s mothers makes every day feel like Mother’s Day. Although we celebrate this day together with our own mothers, we also take this opportunity to remind our friends and family members being acknowledged as Jabari’s legal parent is one of many reasons why marriage equality is important in Virginia.

 

What is your Mother’s Day tradition? Do you and your partner celebrate it together?

 

We celebrate Mother’s Day with our extended family. It’s a special day for us to celebrate the most influential women in our family, not just our mothers, but all of those who have supported us. 

Yes we celebrate every family tradition together.

 

You’re a plaintiff in a state marriage case — in your own words, please tell us why you feel it’s important for gay families to have legal protections. 

 

We feel it’s important for all families to be treated equally. Every devoted partner and loving parent should have the opportunity to provide all the legal intricacies of functioning as a family. This sometimes may include authorizing medical treatment, academic guidance and full financial support. These things are only a few of the things not possible without full legal marriage rights. We want the same rights as other loving couples and parents in our beautiful extended family and network of friends.

Whitewood, same-sex marriage, Pennsylvania, gay news, Washington Blade

The Whitewood family (Photo courtesy of the family)

NAME: Deb Whitewood

PARTNER’S NAME: Susan Whitewood

OCCUPATION: Full-time Mom

KIDS’ NAME(S) AND AGES: Abbey, 17; Katie, 15; Landon, 3.

CITY/STATE: Bridgeville, PA

CASE INVOLVED IN: Whitewood v. Wolfe

 

As a lesbian mom, what does Mother’s Day mean to you? Does it have any special significance as an LGBT parent? 

 

To me, Mother’s Day means the same that I think it means to any mom, to have our children, families, friends and community members recognize the mothers, or mother figures, in our lives for the hardworking and loving presence that they faithfully provide to not only their own children, but often to other children in their communities. Being a mother was once described to me as akin to having your heart walk around outside of your body. That’s what I feel, I feel like I have at least three or four or more pieces of my heart walking around the world with me.

As a lesbian couple, becoming mothers wasn’t easy for Susan and me. We had to work very hard to create our family and we had to jump through a lot of hoops, legally, emotionally and physically. But the result is that we have three wonderful kids who call us Mummy and Momma, and they know, without a shadow of a doubt, just how much they were wanted and how precious each of them is to us.

 

What is your Mother’s Day tradition? Do you and your partner celebrate together? 

 

I have to laugh, because until this Mother’s Day, Susan and I have always been together on Mother’s Day. The kids would make cards, often really, really large, creative cards, for us. We would go to church together and then head out to celebrate with our own mothers and my grandmas, often with a brunch together in downtown Pittsburgh.  Things have changed though. Susan’s mom and both of my grandmas have passed away. And in true mother form, our kids’ activities take precedence over even our Mother’s Day celebration. Our daughter, Katie, has a volleyball tournament in Columbus, Ohio on Mother’s Day. (Whomever planned that should have their head examined!) So off to Columbus we will go. My mom will be joining us later in the afternoon. So we will make our own Mother’s Day celebration wherever we end up. That’s the thing about moms; we go with the flow and do whatever is necessary to make it work out best for all members of the family.

 

You’re a plaintiff in a state marriage case — in your own words, please tell us why you feel it’s important for gay families to have legal protections. 

 

Gay and lesbian families are in communities all around us and many are raising children. We live and work alongside our straight married friends and do things almost exactly the same way. We change diapers, help with homework, clean the house, car pool, shop for prom dresses, cheer at volleyball games, visit the zoo, shop at the grocery, see the doctor and play at the park just like our straight counterparts do. In many of our communities we are viewed as equal to our straight counterparts and our families are valued and supported. But even when our families are valued and supported, there is disparity. Our families are treated like second-class families in so many ways. Children are denied health insurance because their parents are not allowed to be married and the employer won’t provide insurance for the same-sex spouse and her children. Gay and lesbian parents have to pay large legal fees to create a patchwork of legal protections to give their families some, but nowhere near all, the protections that come with marriage.  We file for second-parent adoptions and hope they will be granted. We notarize wills, powers of attorney, guardianship papers and other paperwork and pray that we will never need them, but we carry them everywhere, just in case. No married, straight friend of mine has ever had to scramble to find her power of attorney paperwork when she heard her husband had been rushed to the hospital. I have. I made sure I had it when Susan went to the hospital last year because all I could think was, “What am I going to do if they won’t let me see her?”

Our families deserve the same recognition and protection that other families have because we ARE a family. A family that loves each other, supports each other, cares for each other and will always be there for each other.

Mary Townley, Emily Townley-Schall, Carol Schall, Virginia, Equality Virginia Commonwealth Dinner, gay news, Washington Blade, same-sex marriage, gay marriage, marriage equality

From left, Mary Townley, Emily Townley-Schall and Carol Schall attended the 2014 Equality Virginia Commonwealth Dinner on April 5. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

 

NAME: Carol Schall

PARTNER’S NAME: Mary Townley

OCCUPATION: Assistant professor and researcher, Virginia Commonwealth University

KIDS’ NAME(S) AND AGES: Emily, age 16

CITY/STATE: Richmond, VA

CASE INVOLVED IN: Bostic v Rainey

 

As a lesbian mom, what does Mother’s Day mean to you? Does it have any special significance as an LGBT parent? 

 

It is a celebration of our job as moms. It is a day to recognize the wonder and joy of being a mom. It is also a recognition that being a mom is not intuitive, easy or second nature. It requires mindfulness and awareness of your role to raise the next generation and even the generations to come. According to experts, we parent as our parents do. Emily will probably parent her children as we have parented her. So, Mother’s Day is a day for me to reflect on the generations past and the generations yet to come that will carry our light forward into the ages. Beyond all other endeavors, being a mom is the most important and lasting. Being a mom has been a dream of mine from the time I could first think. For Mary and I, we didn’t think this could be a reality until we set a vision to become moms. I love being Emily’s mom more than any other job I have ever had. It is my greatest joy and my greatest worry all at the same time!

 

What is your Mother’s Day tradition? Do you and your partner celebrate it together? 

 

Emily usually shops for gifts for us with a good friend of ours the week before Mother’s Day. Our morning is usually pretty easy. As a teen, she likes to sleep late, that means her moms get to sleep late too! Once we are up and moving, we usually go out to Sunday brunch. We also try to have all chores done to make it a really relaxed family day. When Emily was a baby, we would shop for each other. Now that she is older, she shops for us. I love to recognize the amazing mom that Mary is. She is warm and kind and tenderhearted when it comes to Emily. Mother’s Day is my opportunity to recognize all that she is and means to Emily.

 

You’re a plaintiff in a state marriage case — in your own words, please tell us why you feel it’s important for gay families to have legal protections. 

 

Mary gave birth to Emily, but I am the main “bread winner” in our family. Without marriage, the state of Virginia will never recognize me as Emily’s parent. Marriage matters for Emily and all of our children. Without the protections of marriage, Virginia would not recognize my estate as Emily’s should anything ever happen to me. They would not automatically notify me if anything ever happened to her. Finally, they could even prohibit me from seeing her or coming to her aid if anything were to happen to Mary. Without marriage, I am a legal stranger to my own daughter. I am in this fight for Emily. I want her to have a family that is recognized. I want to be able to legally and finally be her mom. We celebrate Mother’s Day as a family. I long for the day when we can legally celebrate Mother’s Day as a nation.

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