Four-year-old twins Emmet and Gabriel are pretty typical kids. They like to play outside. They like puzzles and toy cars. And they’re curious about new gadgets. They also like to cuddle in their parents’ arms, and sometimes they need extra attention.
Emmet and Gabriel have pretty old-fashioned parents, who tied the knot before they moved in together, who always knew they wanted to have kids, who try to attend church on Sundays, who share dishwashing and laundry duties, and who put the boys to bed by 8 p.m. every night. Except that their parents, Paul Melchert and James Zimmerman … are gay. “On our third date, both of us realized that this was turning into something that was going to last for a long time,” says Melchert, a pediatrician in Minneapolis. “Going into this, I very much wanted to become a parent, and was hopeful that James did too.” Like many parents, watching their children being born was one of the most powerful moments of their lives. In Melchert’s and Zimmerman’s case, a surrogate mom delivered the twins, but needed an emergency caesarian section. Both dads were in the room during the birth. “To hear your son cry for the first time as he came out, and then number two we heard cry,” Melchert recalls, as he points to a framed photo on their mantel of Emmet, just moments after his birth, comforting his crying twin brother Gabriel. “It was really an incredible moment.” Melchert and Zimmerman celebrate the seventh anniversary of their unofficial wedding at the end of April. They held a service on April 29, 2006, at Macalester Plymouth United Church in Saint Paul for approximately 40 family member and close friends. They walked in to the chapel holding hands, and walked out holding hands. “The moment that stands out most for me is just standing with the minister in front of an alter with all of our family sitting there,” Zimmerman recounts. “I particularly remember a beautiful toast speech that my father gave, welcoming James and acknowledging that it was two families coming together,” says Melchert. “How much they cherished James and how much they loved having him as part of their new life. He always said that, as a parent, you love your children, and you also love who your children love. To hear my father say that, and get a little tearful when he said it, was really impactful for me.” On election night last November, they gathered together with opponents of the ballot amendment that would have constitutionally banned same-sex marriage. But like many Minnesota parents, they couldn’t stay out too late because it was a weeknight. “It was really exciting being there with a large group,” says Melchert. “It got late and our babysitter needed to go home, so we came home early. But we watched the returns on TV and on our iPad. We were about to go to bed, and all of a sudden James refreshed the screen and they had checked it.” “In the morning we woke up and got excited again, then we realized we were celebrating that there wasn’t a constitutional ban on our relationship — which isn’t quite the same as celebrating marriage equality, but it was a first step.” In response to a legislative push to legalize same-sex marriage in Minnesota, some Republicans suggested that the state instead enshrine civil unions. But Paul Melchert says, that’s not good enough. “The rights, benefits and privileges that come from a legally recognized marriage cannot be obtained by any other means,” he told journalists during a press conference at the State Capitol earlier this year. “All families benefit from the reassurance that comes from knowing that your family is safe and secure.” “When you’re out in public or when you’re talking about your family and you say ‘my husband’ or ‘my wife’, there’s an automatic acceptance and understanding of the importance of who that is. I don’t think everybody always recognizes that if you say ‘my boyfriend’, ‘my girlfriend’, ‘my spouse’ or ‘my partner’, it doesn’t carry that same important meaning.” Melchert, a pediatrician, adds that years of studies show that kids of gay couples do just as well as kids of heterosexual couples.