Love Rules — Meet Our Plaintiff Families

Find Your State

Know the laws in your state that protect LGBT people and people living with HIV.

 

The Yorksmith Family

Pam York and Nicole Smith met at a party in 2006 and married in California in 2008. “Being married did not change who we were. It just solidified the love that we had for one another and the commitment that we had for each other. For me, it made me feel like we were more of a family,” said Nicole.

Though their personalities are different -- they say they are like “yin and yang” to one another -- they both value family. They moved into a house in Kentucky near the Ohio border, so as to be close to extended family, and decided it was time to start a family of their own. They combined their last names, “York” and “Smith,” so that their whole family could share the same name when they had children.

“It took us about six months to get pregnant with Grayden. When we found out about Grayden, it was Valentine’s Day and it was the best Valentine’s Day gift ever. We could not wait for him to come into the world, we were so ecstatic. He came into the world busting away and it’s been the most fulfilling thing since for the last four years of our lives,” said Pam.

They wanted to ensure that Grayden had the best medical care possible, so they chose to give birth in a hospital known for being one of the best in the area. However, because the hospital was in Ohio, Pam was not recognized on Grayden’s birth certificate, even though the couple was legally married.

In order to ensure that their family was fully recognized and that Grayden was protected, the two had to jump numerous expensive legal hurdles -- taking money that could have gone to Grayden’s schooling or other future expenses -- to ensure that Pam is recognized with the authority to approve medical care, deal with child care workers and teachers, travel alone with their son, and otherwise address all of the issues parents deal with on a daily basis.

In June 2014, Nicole gave birth to their second son, Orion, and they are seeking to be able to put Pam’s name on his birth certificate in order to make sure their whole family is protected.

When Orion was four months old, he became gravely ill. It was late at night, and Pam took him to the hospital where he was born, and when she got there, they asked her who she was.  The attending nurse looked up Orion in their system and said that they only had Nicole listed as the mom – which was because Ohio refused from our son’s birth to recognize his second parent.  The nurse said that she would need to call Nicole to verify that Pam was his mother. Because their marriage is not recognized by Ohio and Orion’s second parent isn’t recognized by Ohio, their child’s emergency care had to wait until a hospital could confirm that Pam – Orion’s mom – could do what any other concerned parent would for a sick child. 

For Nicole, not having their marriage recognized has a profound effect on her sense of dignity. Nicole works in Ohio, a short drive from the family’s Kentucky home.  Neither the state where she lives nor the state where she works and had her children recognizes the Yorksmiths as a family.  “It makes me sad that the states where I live and work don’t fully recognize me as a human being. It makes me feel less than. It makes me feel like a second class citizen. It’s hurtful.”

 

 

The Noe McCracken Family

Kelly McCracken and Kelly Noe met at a music festival in Downtown Cincinnati, where McCracken’s band was performing. Noe loved the band and went to buy their CD from McCracken. The two instantly became friends and stayed in touch, though McCracken was living in northeastern Ohio at the time.

As McCracken’s band played more shows in Cincinnati and the two got to spend more time together, they grew closer and became a couple in 2008, and Noe moved to Warren, Ohio to be with McCracken. The two knew they wanted to spend their lives together and married on their third anniversary in Provincetown, Massachusetts. 

In 2013, they were ready to start a family, and Noe became pregnant with their daughter Ruby. Though the couple was living in Kentucky, Ruby was born in a nearby hospital in Ohio, where only one of her parents’ names could be on her birth certificate. After giving birth, their joy was also accompanied by concern for Ruby: “I worry that, if something were to happen to me, if my name is the only name on the birth certificate, how is Ruby protected?  What happens to Ruby?” Noe thought.  “Ruby needs to know that this is her family, and we both love her unconditionally.”

They wanted to  ensure that both of Ruby’s parents would be recognized and that Ruby would be protected. “We had always just dealt with the discrimination here and there against us, but after Ruby was born our focus shifted to protecting her from facing the same discrimination. We want to do everything we can to make sure she knows that she has two parents who love her and will always protect her as a family, and that the state government can’t threaten that or make her feel any less secure,” said McCracken. 

“I have a lot of worries about our family not being protected and treated equally with other families. Mostly I want Ruby not to feel different. I want her to feel like her family is just like anyone else’s family. I don’t want her to go to school and be discriminated against, because her family looks different,” added Noe.

Being denied recognition of their marriage has taken not only an emotional toll, but also a significant financial one. The couple has to pay for a second health insurance plan to cover McCracken, because the family health insurance plan that other married couples at Noe’s employer are able to access is not available to them -- in fact, they would have had to pay more than other couples for second tier insurance. “It is costing us more... and that is money, every month, that we could be putting aside for Ruby’s school tuition or something for her down the road, but instead we have to compensate for our own health coverage.  And it is just sad.”

The Vitale Talmas Family

Joseph Vitale and Robert Talmas live in New York with their two-year old son Cooper. The two met through a mutual friend in 1997 and, as Joe puts it, “we quickly knew we were made for each other.” 

Both from large families, Joe and Rob were legally married in New York in September 2011, and around that time also began looking into starting their own family through adoption.  “We adopted Cooper, who was born in Ohio, in New York, and it has been nonstop ever since... he has been the focus of our lives and we are the happiest people in the world that we can be Cooper’s parents.”

After going through a rigorous adoption process in 2013, the couple sought to get what all adopted children routinely receive – a revised birth certificate naming the child’s adoptive parents.  But the couple was told by Ohio that only one of their names could be on Cooper’s birth certificate, forcing them to decide who would be the parent listed on their son’s birth certificate and who would be the “other.”  “Our marriage certificate says Joseph Vitale and Robert Talmas, so why shouldn’t the birth certificate?”

Now that Cooper is in their lives, Joe and Rob worry about the hurdles they and their son will face because Ohio disrespects their family.  It is particularly ironic for them that, though they live in New York, which fully recognizes their marriage and granted their adoption, Ohio’s law still reaches out from 500 miles away to threaten their family. Without an accurate birth certificate for Cooper, they will face obstacles to enrolling him in school, traveling with him, and making sure that every time he sees his birth certificate, he doesn’t feel the sting of discrimination against his family.  And with the existing patchwork of marriage laws across the county, the family avoids travel to non-marriage states out of fear that in an emergency, the state might not recognize them both as Cooper’s parents.  Even when their own case was argued in federal court in Ohio last summer, they did not both travel with Cooper to Ohio to be in the courtroom.  They were afraid to step foot with their son in Ohio, a state that insists they are not a family and that Cooper can have only one, not two, parents.  “Cooper deserves better.”

 

 

The Henry-Rogers Family

Brittani Henry and LB Rogers are both life-long Ohio residents.  They have been in a loving, committed relationship since 2008 and wanted to have their relationship legally recognized by getting married in New York in 2014. The two have stood by each other through thick and thin, in the good times and the bad, always there for each other no matter what.   It was a dream come true when they were able to bring a child into their lives together.  The couple sought out legal protections when Brittani was pregnant with their son Jayseon, since their home state would not recognize their marriage.  They work hard to support Jayseon and one another and to give him a good home, but Ohio undermines them as a family.    They have to work that much harder to overcome the hurdles Ohio throws in their path.  “If anything were to happen to me, I would want Jayseon’s second parent to be able to make medical decisions for him, to be able to take him to school without having to carry all this documentation stating that ‘hey, this is my child,’” said Brittani. “We only want what’s best for our son, and he shouldn’t have any unnecessary and discriminatory obstacles placed in his way. We are both his parents and his birth certificate should show that he is loved and supported by two caring, committed parents.”  The two are saddened that their home state will not afford them the dignity of recognizing their marriage and that they are both Jayseon’s parents.