Monday, December 5, 2016

How Far We've Come

When states across the country began legalizing gay marriage I always assumed Alabama would be the last to admit defeat.   We happened to be in Mobile the day marriage was legalized in the state of Alabama.  It was a day I never imagined being a reality.

It was an emotional day.  Growing up with gay parents in Alabama, much of my childhood was shrouded in secrecy.  My friend’s families were kind but mostly conservative.  My mother, a teacher, lived in fear that I would be taken from her or that she would lose her job as a school teacher.

The news reported that people were lined up at the courthouse waiting for marriage licenses.  So I did the only thing I knew to do to show my support; I put my daughter in the car, drove to the closest bakery, bought two dozen cake balls, and headed to the court house.  I wanted to be part of this historic moment and I wanted my daughter to be there too.  What’s a wedding day without cake?

When we arrived couples lined the hall of the courthouse.  The probate window was closed and no licenses were being issued thanks to an order from the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, Roy Moore.  The excitement of the legal victory was soon overshadowed by frustration.  Undaunted, we walked through the courthouse handing out cake balls and making friends.

When I started 40 Lunches, I wanted to connect with the people who helped shape my first 40 years, but I also wanted to reach out to people who I hope will inspire the next 40.  I had never met Kim McKeand and Cari Searcy, but it was their fight to be legally recognized as a family that made that day at the courthouse possible.  For me, their story is an inspiration.  I reached out to them and invited them to lunch.

Cari and Kim didn’t mean to be the Alabama’s poster family for gay marriage.  The couple has been together for 18 years, but even though they married in California in 2008, their marriage wasn’t recognized in the state of Alabama.  

The Texas natives met in college, and after a visit to Mobile where Kim’s uncle lived, the couple decided to relocate.  In 2005, they became parents.  Because Alabama didn't recognize their marriage, Cari was unable to have her name added to their son’s birth certificate.  This became an issue when they learned that their son had a heart condition that would require surgery.  He would need a feeding tube until he was strong enough for surgery, but because Cari wasn’t his legal guardian nurses refused to teach her how to care for him.  Realizing that Cari had no legal standing in their son’s life, they became determined to fight the system.  Cari’s attempt to adopt her son in 2006 eventually led to a federal lawsuit to end Alabama’s ban on same sex marriage in 2014.

We meet at a local Mexican restaurant and find a table on the patio.  There is a familiarity about them, not because of what I had read, but because there is no pretense about them.  Cari works in video production and Kim is the marketing director for AIDS Alabama South.  We talk about our families, our children, and the struggles of being working parents.  We talk about how much the south has changed: about how far we've come and how far we have to go. 

I ask them about their son and how he’s responded to being in the spotlight.  They tell me that they were able to shield him from much of the media attention.  Now that he’s older he is able to recognize how important their story is and the impact it has had on others. 

Their lives have changed as well.  Publicity from lawsuit led to their story being told in magazine’s, newspapers and online.  When Ellen Degeneres tweeted about them, their website crashed.  There was also the financial impact of their almost-ten year fight.  Luckily, most of the financial burden fell on the state of Alabama as a result of their victory. 

We could have talked for hours; they instantly felt like old friends.  As we say our goodbyes we promise to keep in touch.  There are plans for drinks on their front porch when we are in town again.  I am grateful that they had the courage to embark on this journey, one that has benefited so other families like theirs.  For many, Kim and Cari humanized the struggle for equality.  They accomplished something that my parents never dreamed possible.

My mother used to say that if everyone had to work as hard as gay parents to have and to keep their children, there would be no unwanted children in the world.  Kim and Cari created a family together that should be validated simply by their commitment to one another; however, it took a court case to validate their family in the eyes of the law, giving them the same rights as partners and parents that others are afforded. 

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1 comment:

  1. This post was amazing! I'm an ally and huge supporter of the LGBT community.