We knew almost immediately. It was love at first sight.
I met Paul in the summer of 1991 in Louisville, Kentucky. Paul lived in Western New York and was visiting his brother who lived in Louisville. It was his last day of a one-week stay.
After Paul returned to New York, we talked on the phone every day and took weekend trips from New York to Louisville and from Louisville to New York for months. Paul was a third grade teacher at an elementary school in Western New York, and I had recently become a nurse in the intensive care unit at a local hospital in Louisville.
In those early days, many of our conversations centered around how significant family is in our lives. We are both from very large families and know how vital it is to have family connections. Our biggest dream was to become parents and have children of our own.
After six months of dating long distance, Paul gave up his job in New York and moved to Louisville. On Christmas 1992, we exchanged rings to symbolize our commitment to each other. We also decided to pursue our dream of becoming parents and start a family.
After doing a ton of research on adoption, visiting multiple agencies and encountering more than one setback, we finally met our boys.
We were connected to a birthmother who had delivered twins, and she wanted to place them in a home together. She only wanted to be assured the children would remain together in a loving home. We were thrilled! All of our dreams came true when our boys came home, and we continued to build the family we had always wanted.
Of course the legal process of becoming parents to the twins proved to be quite tumultuous. Because Kentucky limits a joint adoption by two adults to people who are married, we had to pursue a “single-parent” adoption. As a result, Paul is the only legal parent to our twin boys. It was and continues to be painful that we aren’t both legally acknowledged as fathers and both legally responsible as parents.
After only a few years, we decided it was time to add a princess to our family. We went through the same process, and a birthmother, who was scheduled to deliver a biracial baby girl in only six weeks, selected us to adopt her daughter. Four years later, we decided to be foster parents to a 7-year-old who Paul met through his work as a school counselor. But again, Kentucky’s marriage laws meant that only one of us could become the “official” foster parent.
So our family had grown to four children, which was more of a blessing than we could have ever dreamed of.
We have never stopped fighting to receive legal protections for our children and each other. Because we have not both been able to secure legal relationships with our children through marriage or adoption, we sought out legal advice and have tried to draw up agreements such as medical powers of attorney to protect our kids. We have done everything we can but we know that our family is still at risk. For example, if one parent became disabled, insurance benefits would only apply to the child or children legally adopted by that parent.
Nothing offers the protection that marriage affords.
In July 2008, our family enjoyed a vacation in Palm Springs, California, visiting with Paul’s brother, who who was also in a same-sex relationship. At that time, the state of California began performing marriages for same-sex couples. Therefore we, along with Paul’s brother and his signficiant other, applied for marriage licenses. Even though we knew our marriage “wouldn’t count” in Kentucky, we were married in the mayor’s office in Palm Springs in a double wedding, each couple witnessing each others’ commitment to their life-long partner. Our children were able to participate in this event that we will vividly remember for the rest of our lives.
As with all families, unexpected situations challenge our strength and courage. In 2012, Paul was diagnosed with prostate cancer at the age of only 46, which was devastating. Not only was he diagnosed with a life-threatenting disease, but we were faced with additional challenges on how to interact with a healthcare system that had the legal right to discriminate against us and to exclude me from decisions about Paul’s healthcare.
Today our kids are thriving and we want to protect them as best we can so that they continue to succeed and experience all that is possible in this world. That’s why we joined a federal lawsuit seeking respect for marriages between same-sex couples legally performed in other states herein Kentucky.
We’ve fought hard to create our beautiful family, and we’ll continue to show our kids the power of standing up for what’s right.
Randy Johnson and his husband Paul live in Louisville, Kentucky, with their four kids. They are plaintiffs in Bourke v. Beshear, one of four freedom to marry cases from the 6th Circuit, which will be considered by the U.S. Supreme Court this term.
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