Like fathers, like son
From East Lansing to the White House, partners advocate for same-sex parent rights in Michigan
Since adopting their son Lucas, Kent and Diego Love-Ramirez have become local advocates for same-sex marriage and joint parent adoption. Both are members of the Family Equality Council, and the family was invited to spend this past Father’s Day at the White House with President Barack Obama.
It was Christmas Eve in 2005.
Kent Love, the communications director for the MSU College of Law, had spent the evening unwrapping gifts with Diego Ramirez, his partner of five years. But unbeknownst to Ramirez, his last gift from Kent would hold a meaning he’d never forget.
He opened his last present — a box containing the foam outline of a cross-shaped ornament — and was instantly thrown. He looked up to the tree and found the ornament, placed in the middle of the tree and holding two rings.
“I got down on one knee and proposed,” Kent Love-Ramirez said. “I don’t remember exactly what I said, but there was a lot of crying.”
Since their ceremony in the Alumni Memorial Chapel two years later, the couple has remained dedicated to building a family, as well as advocating for the right of others in the LGBT community to Kent and Diego’s work led to an unexpected honor: eating lunch at The White House with President Barack Obama.
Both men are active members of the Family Equality Council, a national organization geared toward gaining equal family rights for individuals who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
They also have become advocates for joint adoption for same-sex parents after adopting their son, 2-year-old Lucas, in 2011. They’ve helped set up family-friendly events for Michigan Pride, a Lansing-based ally group meant to show support for the LGBT community.
Kent said their involvement started out when he went to a gay marriage conference in Washington, D.C.
“We were starting to advocate for second-parent adoption in Michigan, but there really wasn’t much of a concerted effort yet,” he said.
All in the family
Although the two cannot be husbands under Michigan’s same-sex marriage ban, Kent and Diego knew they wanted children early on.
Both grew up in traditional families, and Kent said creating a family of their own remains a top priority.
“We’re both very close with our respective families, and that really spoke volumes to me,” Kent said. “There are times in the gay community where people come out and they drift from their family and create families within the community … Although we have great friends, we’re very grounded in our core family to this day.”
Currently, Michigan law does not allow same-sex couples to go through with a joint parent adoption, meaning one partner must take on the role of legal adoptive parent. Although the two were frustrated by the process, Kent said they have tried to keep it equal since they initially adopted Lucas.
“(The birth parents) chose us as a couple,” Kent said. “We were both present in the delivery room, so there was really no delineation in the process that one would be or one wouldn’t be (the adoptive parent) until it was legally done in a courthouse.”
The law also can create issues with insurance and emergency situations for the parents. But to Diego, the hurt goes twofold.
“Lucas is a very healthy child, but he does have two parents,” Diego said. “It’s just unfortunate that in some lawmakers’ eyes, they don’t see him as having two parents. That would be devastating to him if somebody went up to him and told him that one of us isn’t his real dad.”
But as soon as they held their son Lucas, who was born on New Year’s Day in 2011, they knew it was worth the fight. Except for family, the two choose not to reveal who is Lucas’ legal adoptive parent.
“We were just like any fathers, sitting in the lobby waiting until you were asked to come into the delivery room,” Kent said. “Diego was able to cut the umbilical cord, I was able to hold him right away, and it was just really amazing.”
Although some states have started to change their policies in favor of recognizing gay marriage and joint parent adoption for same-sex couples, Michigan currently places strict laws around same-sex marriage and partnership, as well as employment opportunities for those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
The U.S. District Court in Detroit is scheduled to hear arguments next month in a case challenging Michigan’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. In a brief included in the case, attorneys representing the state argue the ban is necessary to “regulate sexual relationships” to encourage population growth.
The issues must be looked at realistically in order to conquer them, Michigan American Civil Liberties Union Staff Attorney Jay Kaplan said.
“We have to take a cold, sober look at what’s going on when it comes to gay marriage in Michigan,” Kaplan said. “It takes everything off the table … Any time a state locality recognizes same-sex marriage, they run the risk of going against (an) amendment.”
For many same-sex couples, however, there are more pressing issues, MSU’s LBGT Resource Center assistant director Deanna Hurlbert said.
“Having relationships recognized as marriage or the legal equivalent of marriage isn’t everyone’s first priority,” Hurlbert said. “For a same-sex couple to jointly adopt is not available in Michigan, so there’s many more problems than the issue of marriage.”
Despite the odds, Kent said he and Diego are in the process of adopting a second child. He and Diego said they currently are pursuing other avenues to achieve joint parent adoption for themselves and others.
“We’re doing our due diligence with all of our legal paperwork to protect ourselves as best we can,” Kent said. “We’re exploring some avenues outside of Michigan that might be able to get us the legal recognition, and we’re also continuing to advocate here.”
East Lansing officials have voiced their desire to bring equal family rights to the city, as well.
In August, Mayor Pro Tem Nathan Triplett proposed a domestic partnership registry. Although little would change, the registry would provide the symbolic acceptance of same-sex couples within the city.
“Inclusive communities are able to retain the best and brightest communities,” Triplett said. “To compete for equal civil rights isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s important for our community and the whole state of Michigan.”
The council will put the registry to a vote Oct. 15.