Two-year-old Hannah toddles into the living room and excitedly does a little dance to the Disney movie Frozen as it plays in the background before she climbs into her dad’s lap.
Her dad, Jason Amon, kisses her on the forehead and Hannah turns to give her other dad, Rodney Wade, a hug.
Then she toddles back to the playroom with Olaf the snowman singing about summer, blissfully oblivious to the fact that Texas still does not recognize her daddies as husband and husband.
“It doesn’t feel different. In practice we are just fathers raising kids and it just seems normal to us. We are just an old, boring married couple,” Wade said with a laugh.
Though the routine for Amon and Wade is the same as for other families — making spaghetti for dinner, endlessly listening to Frozen’s Elsa sing Let It Go, potty-training Hannah and teaching 6-year-old Nate how to count money — the details of living in a state that doesn’t recognize your marriage can get tricky, Amon said.
An attorney who specializes in estate planning for same-sex couples, Amon said that although the men were married in Canada in August 2007, they face financial costs and endless paperwork to ensure that their family is protected like opposite-sex couples.
All that could change soon if the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rules that Texas’ same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional.
Jonathan Saenz, president of Austin-based Texas Values, which opposes same-sex marriage, said in an email that Texas already settled the issue in 2005 when the Legislature and voters “confirmed that marriage is between one man and one woman.”
“Supporters of redefining marriage should have to go through this same process and not get away with having a few unelected federal judges censor the will of the people,” Saenz said.
For Amon and Wade, however, having an unrecognized marriage has ramifications on their daily lives.
Amon’s name is on their adopted children’s birth certificates, though Hannah and Nate have Wade’s last name. The strategy is to ensure as much as possible that both are recognized as dads, though it’s always possible that doctors, schools and others could discriminate.
“Even though everyone we’ve met has been very accepting, there is still this uncertainty when you go into school because you don’t know if you will be accepted or not — or that our marriage, the fact that we are both Nate’s parents, will be accepted,” Amon said.
Community-property laws don’t apply to same-sex couples, so advanced estate planning is required to make sure each man would inherit property.
The men are also worried about how the lack of state recognition could affect their kids.
“The fact that our marriage is not recognized or honored or considered legitimate — it weakens our family somehow,” Amon said. “It sends them [the kids] a message that our family is less than all the other families.”
There is also an extra cost, especially for couples who don’t have an attorney in the family.
The cost of illegitimacy
Three-year-old Max sorts through paper cards of all the letters just before bedtime, proudly finding a K at the request of his mom, Caren Wooldridge.
Holding it up, he shows his other mom, Phoebe DeSantis. DeSantis smiles, tells him “good job” and ruffles his hair.
Like Hannah, Max is oblivious to the political tension that surrounds his family as he learns his ABCs.
He doesn’t know his moms spent about $20,000 in attorney fees and adoption applications to make sure Wooldridge would also be recognized as his mom.
“He was born into my hands. He hit me before he touched anybody else,” Wooldridge said. “I still had to go through the courts and adopt him like I was adopting a child from a different country.
“I had to be fingerprinted. I had to do an FBI background check. We had a social worker. I had to have an attorney, and he had to have his own attorney.”
And when Wooldridge was diagnosed with cancer in 2013, the added estate planning was a burden.
DeSantis works for Fort Worth, which already offered insurance benefits to domestic partners, a fact that saved Wooldridge’s life, both women said.
Wooldridge was a stay-at-home mom with Max and wouldn’t have been insured otherwise.
Waiting for Texas
Wooldridge and DeSantis are still not officially married because DeSantis wants to wed in Texas.
“I have an issue with going to a place that I have no connection to just to do this,” DeSantis said. “It angers me that I have to do that. For me, a marriage is about us and I understand that, but I also think it is about family and friends. And I want my family and friends there.”
Wooldridge said she wants to be part of the state’s history when the ban is lifted.
David Mack Henderson, president of Fairness Fort Worth, said it’s hard to know how many same-sex couples in Tarrant County have left the state to marry, though he estimates 600.
“No one is keeping those records, and that is part of our issue,” Henderson said. “No one publishes it. No one tracks it. No one keeps it. That is one of the predicaments about acknowledging our community.”
As of today, 37 states recognize same-sex marriage. Though getting married in another state, or even another country, is an option for some, Henderson said the Texas ban disproportionately affects lower-income families because they are less likely to be able to afford out-of-state travel.
Ruling coming any day
The federal appeals court ruling on Texas’ decade-old ban could come any day. The U.S. Supreme Court is also expected to weigh in on same-sex marriage by summer.
Tarrant County has said it will issue same-sex marriage licenses if the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rules that the ban is unconstitutional and there’s no stay of that ruling.
But Saenz said redefining marriage has a cost.
“Redefining marriage equals businesses owners having their religious and conscience rights trampled on by government officials,” Saenz said. “Redefining marriage equals removing the words mother and father from Texas birth certificates and being replaced by Parent 1 and Parent 2 as proposed by a new bill.
“Redefining marriage and sexuality leads to local laws that allow men to enter bathrooms with little girls. Just ask families in Houston and San Antonio.”
Wooldridge and DeSantis and Amon and Wade argue that they are traditional families.
Wooldridge and DeSantis hope to get their marriage license the first day they can in Tarrant County. Amon and Wade want to change their kids’ birth certificates to include both their names.
DeSantis said: “I never thought of the Cinderella, fairy-tale wedding. That is not me. But I certainly have in my mind something that is significant — all our friends and family that want to be there. Honestly, I see it in the back yard here, just a whole group of friends with us doing the ceremony.”
Caty Hirst, 817-390-7984