by Jessica Carreras
John Sutton, 29, and his boyfriend Jorge, 31 had an unexpected surprise in 2009: the Ann Arbor couple began taking care of Jorge’s niece, who was sent to them to have a better life than she had in Mexico. Since then, the couple has learned about family love and the issues that come with being same-sex parents.
1) Tell me about how you and Jorge came to be caring for his niece.
Back in the summer of 2008, Jorge and I had spoken to Maribel’s parent via telephone and it was decided that some time soon, she would come and visit and possibly stay with us for a short time.
Unknown to us, on Jan. 8, 2009, Maribel made a surprise appearance at her aunt’s house (Jorge’s middle sister) in Ann Arbor. We did not know she was there and I had never met her. We got there and – surprise! – here she is. She stayed with her two aunts until Jan. 16, and then we were finally ready to have her move into her own room at our house.
Jorge’s sister decided that since Maribel was a U.S. citizen, she needed to learn about her background here. Her mother felt that she could have a better life here in the U.S. Maribel had some minor medical problems that they could not afford to get addressed in Mexico, but by her being here with us, we were able to provide medical care and education – including learning English as a second language – that she would have been lacking in Mexico.
2) Did you ever see yourselves becoming parents?
We both had seen ourselves being parents, but not that soon. Maybe after I finished school.
3) What are your families’ reactions to you caring for her?
Jorge: My brother, sisters and mother were very happy to know she was with John and I, and they knew she would be taken care of.
Now, my cousins are the ones that usually take Maribel down to Mexico, and the wife had talked to Maribel’s mom about having her come to stay with them because she did not like the idea of a little girl living with two gay guys. She even went to the point of trying to get the courts involved, but so far no action has been taken. We don’t expect anything to come from that, because Maribel’s mom and dad want her here with us.
John: My mom and grandma love it. They feel like she is the grandchild that they never had. My whole family loves her and treats her like one of their own. My mom’s boyfriend Ron doesn’t really care too much that a gay couple is raising a child, but then again, he has a problem with me being gay anyway.
4) What problems have you faced as a gay couple taking care of a child?
One of the problems we face is going to a store and having people give our family looks or make faces – not so much in Ann Arbor, but in other cites. People don’t really know how to approach us, being two males showing fatherly qualities toward a little girl. Plus, Jorge is Latino so people naturally tend to think less of him and automatically assume he is the dad.
But when we take her to appointments, they tend to speak more to me, and there is more legal red tape to get through due to the fact that we’re two males and not one male, one female. And there’s always the fear that our “rights” will be affected because we’re a gay couple raising a child.
5) What LGBT equality issue is most important to you?
Being able to have health insurance and auto insurance together, and having rights to be able to care for one another if something happened. Having financial protection if something happens to the other person is important to us, especially now that we are caring for a child.
To learn more about parenting equality in the state of Michigan, visit http://www.secondparentadoption.org.