Sheila & Kathy Gray
For Sheila and Kathy Gray, eight really is enough.
The Grays, who live in Columbia, have eight children between them (Sheila's five adopted children, Kathy's two biological children, and their shared biological son). On the morning of our conversation, Kathy is home sick from work, presenting an additional challenge to the busy couple.
Still, the triumphs overwhelm the tragedies for this extended brood. Comfortable with the life that they led, neither woman wanted to make an extra effort to be legally married.
"It wasn't something I was going to go searching for," Sheila says. "We had discussed moving to a state where it would be recognized. We discussed it a couple times over the years, and we talked about the difficulty of meshing two families."
"A primary reason for me to move would be being closer to the beach," she adds with a laugh.
The decision to get legally married turned into a matter of convenience this summer when the couple took a family trip.
"My family is from Connecticut, and my dad was selling the house that I was raised in," Sheila explains. "We were gonna go up there for a wedding, and within a couple weeks we decided would just get married in the backyard."
By this time, the couple was firmly established, so the logistics of their partnership were already intact.
"The only thing that changed anything was I got to change my last name," Sheila says. "We'd taken care of the living wills, and the houses, and the cars. I think a lot of people are oblivious until you're there in the hospital bed and somebody else is making the decision. We had all these bases covered, but it's still hard."
She didn't know how much difficulty she'd face. Though she experienced little trouble with the social security office, the Department of Motor Vehicles refused to accept her name change. Without that crucial change, she was unable to update their bank accounts.
"We have a lot of the same values, and we expect to live up to the expectations we have for ourselves and our kids," Sheila says.
Their new union wasn't a source of friction among family members, except in one notable case.
"Of all our kids, Kathy's youngest son was the only one who had a problem," Sheila says. "He threw a fit, which actually caused a problem with Kathy's ex-husband. The biggest thing is going from 'my mom's friend' to my 'stepmom.' I've always encouraged my kids to be honest about it. I raised my kids that way before I came out. It's all about how people treat you and respect you. My kids just go with the flow."
The disparities in same-sex marriage laws have caused confusion when the couple explain their situation. Anticipating ugly attitudes from neighbors and friends, she instead found acceptance and freedom. For Sheila, this presents a number of questions.
"Where are all these people that are against it? We're supposed to be in a country where we're accepted no matter who you are," she says. "It doesn't hurt anybody and it doesn't affect anybody. We're all supposed to be equal. All families are different. What happens in the bedroom is such a small, minute part of our lives. I respect if you don't like it. The more respect you get the more you give. If I have to be your topic of conversation, go for it!"