by Shelly Stewart
My partner Jennifer McKissick and I had hoped to be legally married before we adopted our foster son, little Ty, but we realized that the timing of his adoption was out of our control and getting married involved leaving Michigan.
Right after scheduling our wedding in Connecticut for April 2, we were notified that Ty’s adoption finalization hearing would take place on the 12th. Knowing that the next two weeks would change our lives forever, we loaded up our car for a spring break road trip with ten-month old Ty and our two teenage daughters, Faith and Annie.
Our first stop was New York City. While there, Jennifer took the girls to be in the TODAY show audience. Our girls proudly stood in front of the cameras waving their shared poster, “Our moms are getting married TODAY!” We were so proud of them. Connecticut was excitingly next for all of us.
We had searched the Internet and discovered Justice of the Peace Mary Pugh. She simplified the process for us, provided us with a great deal on a luxury hotel, and directed us to the picturesque Town of Darien where we had a simple and intimate Town Hall marriage ceremony.
The most remarkable part of the whole experience was how ordinary the process seemed to everyone around us.
Even though Jennifer and I were emotionally overwhelmed when completing our marriage license application, the staff smiled, congratulating us like same-sex marriage had always been legal. I know it sounds odd, but in that situation, I appreciated being “nothing special.” Nothing special. Indeed!
After our ceremony was over, Mary Pugh asked, “Do you feel different?”
We both replied adamantly and as one, “Yes!”
After spending more than a decade with Jennifer, I had underestimated the emotional impact of getting married. After all, we had a holy union ceremony in 2003. It’s just a legal process, I told myself. But that was not true. Knowing our marriage was legally recognized felt amazing.
We spent the rest of the week in states that saw us as a married couple and it was wonderfully different – a sense of validation and safety. My heart sank just a little when we drove across the New York state line and crossed into no-same-sex marriage Pennsylvania.
I confess that I had mixed emotions about finalizing Ty’s adoption. On one hand, I was delighted because his adoption was our ultimate goal and he would finally be ours. On the other, I was disappointed because in Michigan only one of us could legally adopt him.
We had decided that Jennifer would be the adoptive parent, and I worried that I would feel left out of the entire process, disconnected from my son and wife. I was afraid that I would be on the sidelines as just an observer. However, I was pleasantly surprised when the judge’s assistant told me that I should stand up front next to Jennifer and Ty while she was sworn in and took the adoption oath. Well!
I was absolutely elated when Judge Tracey Yokich addressed me. “Ms. Stewart, even though the State of Michigan isn’t progressive enough to recognize your relationship, we realize…” She went on to say that she realized that I was also included in the process to adopt Ty, and she asked if I too was willing to make this commitment, unofficially of course.
I fought back the tears and responded, “Absolutely!”
Jennifer and I cried with joy for our new son and gratitude for this judge who gave us so much hope. That hearing demonstrated an incredible shift in attitude in Macomb County. In 2001, a judge in that same court house had blatantly discriminated against me for my sexual orientation during my divorce and child custody proceedings.
We have renewed optimism that very soon we will enjoy the same recognition in Michigan that we had in New England. We are family. And blessed.