Amber and Elisa’s Family Story

We interviewed Amber three days after the Supreme Court marriage ruling. Amber lives in Cincinnati, Ohio with her partner Elisa and their two children, Benjamin and Shoshana. They experienced challenges as a family due to Amber’s inability to secure a second-parent adoption. She shared several experiences including a matter at school that ultimately resulted in her daughter attending the school where she currently works.

Family Equality Council: We understand that your son needed surgery and you experienced some challenges with healthcare providers when he was being admitted for the procedure?

Amber: Well we actually had the instance occur similarly twice, the first time was when he had ear tubes. At the time we had to fill out certain paperwork at the hospital and we had not been told about this prior, so I was not allowed to go back with him to get anesthesia for his surgery. Elisa was the only one who was allowed back with him. The second time was actually when he was having major surgery and having tonsils and adenoids and some other things done. It was the first time in eight years that the computer system had gone down at the hospital. We were in the opening room where they are doing blood work and they are questioning who I am and why I am back there. It got to the point where Elisa had to say “Do I need to call my attorney, I have his number on speed dial.” We have never felt that way and been treated that way, but it was disconcerting. It was one of those times when you have to prove that you have a right to be there with your child. It’s heartbreaking in retrospect also.

Family Equality Council: Was it a new doctor or an emergency room setting? Do you know why they made the inquiry?

Amber: It actually wasn’t. It was kind of a check in room, the first step to checking a child in before surgery. It wasn’t an emergency situation, although he got taken in pretty quickly. We were in that initial room where they are doing blood work. All those initial steps that they needed to do. So the computer systems were down so they didn’t have the fact that we did have all the paperwork on file, so the nurse was, I’m sure doing her job, but she was questioning if I could go back further. She was saying, well we don’t really have proof that you are really the other parent, we are not sure you can, she kept having to leave the room to have to talk to the supervisor. It kept going on and on and that’s when Elisa had to say do I need to call the attorney. I was completely refused as the non-birth parent, I was not allowed to go back with my child. I was questioned of my validity of being there with my child in surgery. 

Family Equality Council: Tell us how you felt in that moment.

Amber: Having your parenthood questioned, it’s embarrassing. There’s a real sense of loss, there is a fear of that need to always have to prove yourself and always having to say “No really, really, I am, I am.” It’s a real fearful moment and its heartbreaking. It was heartbreaking. We were already terrified so it was heartbreaking in that moment, in that stress, to have them question if I’m a parent. It was cruel, it just felt very cruel at that moment. 

Family Equality Council: Can we talk about this notion of having to prove you are a parent? Tell us about the challenges you’ve experienced with adoption.

Amber: In Ohio, there has not been second-parent adoption. There has not been the right of the second same-sex parent to adopt, we’re still trying to figure out what has changed with the passing of nationwide marriage equality, but up until now there has not been a right to adopt. So my partner is the birth parent of both of our children. Up until the marriage decision, there was no way to adopt or do anything but have a lot of paperwork that said really it’s okay for me to be there, and it’s okay for me to have medical power of attorney over the children. Up until the marriage decision that’s kind of how it was in Ohio.  

Family Equality Council: So you and Elisa have been together for 10 years and you now have plans to marry. Can you tell us why marriage is important to you?

Amber: It is something we want to do. Our rabbi is on sabbatical, so he comes back in August. Our synagogue community has been so supportive of our family and our children and just every aspect to us, it is of the utmost importance to get married there. We are waiting to get all the parties together and figure all of that out, but yes we want to and our children very much want it. Our daughter is very much aware that we are not married and her friends parents are so she asks questions. We’re seeing the importance for her. 

Family Equality Council: We certainly know the importance of parental rights and the need for same-sex couples to secure those legal protections for their family. Can share with us, in relation to the second-parent adoption, why it is important for you?

Amber: We have a phenomenally supportive family on both sides. Elisa’s parents and family are unbelievable and so are mine. So there is never that fear of a family doing something if something happened to Elisa. However, there is that idea that without an adoption, it could always be questioned by the state. So there is always that sense of wait, I have been here since before conception.

When we were looking for schools for our daughter for kindergarten, we went to our local public school and they were very polite, it was a very liberal school, but they could only put me down as an emergency contact. They could not put me down by state law as second parent. That was very hard to swallow, I ended up getting a job at a private school, changing where I worked so that we could get our children into a Jewish day school, but that wasn’t the original plan by any means. It became too difficult to kind of figure out that world and it is important. I think it should be more than just second parent adoption. I’m hoping that we can actually get my name on the birth certificate. I’m hoping that it is not an adoption thing, that there is not a questioning of parentage. I don’t know, we’re waiting a couple days to call the attorney, because we are sure that it’s mad house over there since the decision came down, but I don’t know if you then have to get married for your name to appear on the birth certificate.

If I were a heterosexual man I could walk in with the women that had my children and that would be fine. There wouldn’t be that questioning of whether that was the dad or not, so it does feel like a double standard, but we do want all the protections in place. Especially because when you travel, or go anywhere, or when Elisa is out of town or something happens, I just never want anything to keep me from my children. 

Family Equality Council: You mentioned a matter at school surrounding the emergency contact form. What happened in that situation?

Amber: We were doing the informal walk through and they were showing us the potential kindergarten parents, the school, and at the very end we had a chance to ask questions and meet the principal. So we’re just checking everything to see if we needed special paperwork. The principal hesitated, she said “Well she can’t be listed as a second parent, but we would be happy to list her as an emergency contact.” So it was just that. At first we thought it was a joke, but it became very clear that that was serious and you see with all the state policy and how it is in Ohio that’s exactly how it was. I could be an emergency contact, but I could not be listed without parental rights, I could not be listed as a second parent on any forms for the state.

Family Equality Council: Is that what resulted in you moving your child to the school where you work? 

Amber: I think the universe kind of works in mysterious ways. We had not even considered this school and people kept encouraging us to look at this school, they thought it would be a good place for our family. We kind of interviewed people at the school and the principal is a wonderful wonderful man who is most recently from the west and he just was so welcoming towards our family. So Elisa has this list of very academic questions that she asked to kind of see what the answers are and he just blew us both away and we both felt so welcomed. He was so nonchalant about it, like off course you’re a parent, why wouldn’t you be, he almost didn’t even understand the question. It was that kind of just, oh okay, that really made us feel like this was a good place and that he would also fight for our family’s acceptance if there ever was a problem. So at the same time, they wanted to steal me from the school where I was, so it kind of made for…we got a good deal. So it became affordable because private school isn’t something we could ever see in our financial future. 

Family Equality Council: How much did you appreciate the principal or is it head of school?

Amber: Yes, he’s the head of school, I think that’s his title. He is a remarkable man, he and his wife immediately after the Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality, sent us the most beautiful text message saying we are thrilled for your family. It’s just been all along the way, he has been…I love him as a boss, he’s become a friend of our family and he is just a really good man. He has been absolutely supportive of our family and our children, and our children adore him. So he is a good head of school. A good boss. 

Family Equality Council: Speaking of the Supreme Court decision, where were you, how did you react, and how did you feel when you received the news?

Amber: Well I am kind of volunteering this summer at the place where I use to work, its Jewish preschool and I love it. I love the people there and love the families so I kind of wanted my son to have time with some of these great old school preschool teachers. So he’s been there in the morning, I’ve been there in the morning, doing kind of workshops for the kids. It was interesting because its also part of the big Jewish community center here in Cincinnati and so there are a number of gay people that work for the center in different departments. So I kept trying to call and connect with somebody that really understood and there were a lot of people around who were sweet, but my skin was popping that morning.

I was so anxiety ridden by Friday with just not knowing. If we knew it was going to be Monday we’d know, but the not knowing had gotten to the point where I was slightly going insane and I don’t know why, but I was so anxious about it. There was nobody I can connect with and Elisa and I said we would call each other once we found out what the ruling was. She had family in town so she was with the kids at the zoo. So finally I’m trying to look in my cellphone to hear what happens at 10 a.m. and I can’t find anything and my mom calls then. My mom is crying on the other end of the line. It’s 10:02 a.m. at this point, so I am very confused on how she knew anything and then she says, “Congratulations,” then Elisa calls and then the phone just goes crazy at that point.

It was hard that we didn’t get to see each other until 1 p.m. that day and it was hard to be separated but there were a lot of people that were so supportive and just starting from 10:02 a.m. I don’t think the phone stopped ringing for 48 hours. It was just really kind, kind messages and shows of support and of excitement for us. We have wonderful people around us who have seen everything that’s happened, who have seen those random moments when little things have happened that have been hard for us. You can see how supportive your community is at a moment like that, when everybody was cheering us on. It was really heart warming, it was lovely. That night our family took us out for a celebratory dinner, we had a babysitter, and it ended up being…the whole day was just magical. It was a magical day. 


For more information on the road to equality for LGBTQ families and how Family Equality Council is advancing family values post marriage equality, read our Family Values Agenda.  We invite you to help us move family values forward this month for back to school. Visit our Inclusive Schools page for tools to help ensure schools are safe and inclusive for our children.