The Makings of a Modern Family
By KJ Philp, Nov. 6, 2014.
On a sunny fall afternoon, a tutu Tuesday to be exact, two school-age girls sit at a kitchen table and finish their homework before changing from their uniforms into their princess gowns to play dress-up.
Chuckles, 4 and Princess Cadence, 8, are undeniably sisters: They finish each other’s thoughts, they hold each other accountable and they both love Halloween, Girl Scouts, Frozen, Cher and their three dogs.
They’re also absolutely crazy about their two dads!
If you’ve read the newspaper, turned on the news or scrolled through your preferred social media feed at all in the past three weeks, there is a good chance their dapper dads look familiar.
Here’s why: Not only were Kevin Patterson, 31, and David Larance-Patterson, 36, plaintiffs in one of Arizona’s marriage equality cases, they were also one of the first two same-sex couples to arrive at Maricopa County Clerk of the Superior Court’s office Oct. 17, 2014, and receive a legally recognized marriage license issued by the state of Arizona.
Shortly thereafter, Rev. John Dorhaer married Kevin and David on the spot. And, after exchanging their vows, the proud family of four proceeded to share their story with reporters and camera crews into the wee hours of the morning.
“We took our marriage and family public to show that we are not really that different,” David said. “I know in my heart that our society wants to be more tolerant and accepting, but there are still so many family dynamics that we have not yet explored. We are just one small dynamic in what makes a family and that is unconditional love for each other. This is what we teach our girls and they teach us everyday.”
Rewind to five years ago, Oct. 30, 2009, to Kevin and David’s formal commitment ceremony in front of family and friends.
“We didn’t know when [marriage equality] was going to come and we thought, ‘we’re not waiting,’” David said. “At the same time, we’re not going to go get married in another state just to have it invalidated in our home.”
Just as that day marked the couple’s commitment to each other, that decision underscored the couple’s commitment to Arizona.
David, a second-generation Arizonan, and Kevin, who moved to Arizona from New Mexico during his school years, agreed that the diversity of Phoenix made it the place they wanted to raise their family.
And, after six years together, they started discussing parenthood.
“I’d always told Kevin, ‘I’m open to kids, the thing you need to understand is that when I’m 40 it’s off the table,’” David said. “We thought about it and finally we came to the conclusion that it’s now or never.”
Princess Cadence (left), David Larance-Patterson, Kevin Patterson and Chuckles have what it takes to make a house a home. Photo by Fernando Hernández.
A New Year’s Resolution
Kevin and David rang in 2012 at Disneyland and, while most people are resolving to lose weight or save money, they put adoption at the top of their list for the New Year ahead.
“We decided the next time we come here, we’re going to have kids with us,” David said. “Adoption is such a powerful way to give back to the community, make a difference in the life of a child and shape our future generation of leaders.”
In yet another commitment to the place they call home, the couple ruled out private adoption in favor of state adoption, which they believed would have the greatest impact locally.
“We would have to go to California for a private adoption [and] there are 16,000 kids in Maricopa County in need of support of some kind,” Kevin said. “That statistic really bothered us.”
After attending information session put on by Arizona Department of Economic Security, the couple agreed that Arizona Children’s Association was the right agency to guide them down the road ahead.
In his first phone call with the licensing specialist, Kevin realized the voice on the other end of the line was Michael Pava, a family and church friend who Kevin babysat and mentored nearly two decades earlier.
“I’m going to be the one that’s placing you with kids,” Kevin recalled Pava saying. “You played such a huge part of in my life growing up, I vow to you I will find the best kids to fit your situation.” And he did.
From there Kevin and David were presented — and considered — the profiles of several children, but for one reason or another it never worked out.
“When we got the girls’ profile I told Kevin I knew this was it,” David said, “but we still had to put together our petition stating why we’re the best family for them.”
According to Kevin, Arizona Children’s Association worked to finalize the adoption before anyone could question it, because by law (as a same-sex couple) they were at the bottom of the list of eligible families.
Party of Four
On Feb. 17, 2013, the girls were welcomed into their new home by their two dads (who the girls would go on to nickname Bear Daddy and Silly Daddy, respectively), though Kevin was the sole adoptive parent.
Throughout the following year, the couple put all their energy into the girls — from striving toward a work/life balance and finding a daily routine to exploring new activities as a family and learning what this meant legally.
“Our struggles with the adoption laws left our family exposed and vulnerable should an unfortunate circumstance occur,” Kevin said. “If something were to happen to me, David doesn’t have any rights to the girls and because they have biological parents and biological family, even here in this state, they’re going to look for them first. This is the family that put them in the system so chances are they’re going to go back into the system.”
Almost on cue, Lambda Legal approached Kevin and David about joining forces with lead plaintiffs Nelda Majors and Karen Bailey, among others, as part of the federal lawsuit (filed March 13, 2014) challenging Arizona’s ban on same-sex marriage.
And, as they have so commonly done in the past, Kevin and David went to work for their community once again. This time, though, they’d attract quite a bit of attention.
“We started seeing the volume of people this could impact,” Kevin said, recounting the decision to get involved. “In order to have a second-parent adoption you have to be married and in order to keep [the girls] safe in the event something happens to me, there has to be a second parent.”
This suit complemented a federal class-action lawsuit (filed Jan. 6, 2014) in which Joe Connolly and Terry Pochert were the lead plaintiffs.
“Between the two cases we were able to put together a really holistic picture of all of issues facing same-sex couples,” Kevin said. “[All the plaintiffs] became a very invested community, uplifting each other when we experienced setbacks and celebrating with each other when we had wins.”
Kevin Patterson and David Larance-Patterson were among same-sex couples to make the front page of teh Arizona Republic Oct. 18, 2014.
A Friday For The Record Books
On the morning of Oct. 17, Bear Daddy, Silly Daddy, Chuckles and Princess Cadence — like countless other Arizonans — gained legal recognition, protection and peace of mind for their family.
“What an amazing experience. We had strangers coming up to us and thanking us and congratulating us,” David said. “Lambda Legal and Why Marriage Matters are the ones that did all the work and I feel like we’re getting all the credit. They are really the ones who put themselves out there.”
But the couple knows there is more work to be done.
“I was asked several times, if we were a part of the lawsuit for the marriage rights, the financial piece, the tax piece,” Kevin recalled. “It was really interesting opening people’s minds to the fact that, honestly, there is no financial benefit to being married.”
While getting married actually complicated the couple’s financial situation, Kevin said it has also provided them with opportunities to discuss rights and protections that only marriage can provide.
“Moving forward, we don’t know what adoption law is going to look like for newly married couples,” David, who is already working with an attorney to petition for second-parent adoption, added.
In the weeks ahead, he’ll have to undergo another home inspection and meet a number of other qualifications before he can be legally recognized as the girls’ other parent. But he’s OK with that.
In the midst of all the interviews, the headlines and the legal technicalities, Kevin and David are still busy working and being dads.
Kevin, the director of executive development for Banner Health, said he received the warmest reception as he returned to work as a legally married man Monday morning, adding that he’s “very proud to work there.”
David, who is currently a stay-at-home dad, is working with the West Valley Child Crisis Center on revising and developing various adoption-centered materials.
“While I think we have been represented in the media as the face of the nontraditional family, I think there are many diverse faces out there,” Kevin said. “If this is a way we can help other people, it’s for the greater good.”
Chuckles (left) and Princess Cadence at a NOH8 photo shoot.
Both dads agree their family’s time in the media spotlight has been overwhelmingly positive and hope this experience communicated that they have a very “normal” family dynamic.
“You want to teach your kids to be above normal and be extraordinary,” Kevin said, “but at the same time, when there is so much diversity in the mix … sometimes what you really want is for them to see they are part of a community that sees them as normal.”
The dads believe that serving as a respectful, professional and approachable representation the LGBT community was an important part of this experience.
“The more we can show the world who we are and that we are not that different, the more we can achieve a more inclusive community and society,” David said. “It was so important for us to be public and show people that we are really the same at the core of being a family … it is my hope that our story will inspire others.”
Meanwhile, Chuckles and Princess Cadence head outside to the wooden playhouse in their backyard. And, no matter what family dynamic their childhood imaginations dream up, it’s clear that love has, in fact, won.
Editor’s Note: The names of the girls have been omitted at their father’s request. However, Chuckles and Princess Cadence are the nicknames commonly used within their household.