If their names were Ward and June, every right-wing “pro family” group would be holding them up as the benchmark for family values. But they are not Ward and June. Their names are Jayne and April and today, their fight for “family equality” is On Our Radar.
Jacob was born with the odds stacked against him. One pound, nine ounces. A pharmacy of street drugs in his system. Abandoned by his drug-addicted mother. After four months in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, (NICU) the foster care system gave up on him too. His case worker asked one of the NICU nurses who was licensed for foster care, if she would take Jacob home, so she could comfort him while he died.
Luckily for Jacob, who really needed some luck, that nurse, April Deboer, and her partner Jayne Rowse, were actually superheroes disguised as suburban Michigan lesbian nurses. They cared for Jacob around the clock, working opposite nights, so one of them was always with him. Jacob responded, and beat the odds. He survived.
You’ve heard of soccer moms? Well, for two years Jayne and April have been ‘therapy moms”, two, three, four times a week, taking Jacob to doctor’s appointments at Children’s Hospital, and his sessions in the “Early On” program for speech, physical and occupational therapy. Whatever it took. There was no sacrifice too great. Sleep was overrated.
Today, at two, Jacob has started walking and he can speak a few words. He’s already surpassed the expectations of his doctors. Of course he has, he’s the son of superheroes. He is theirs. They are his. They are irrevocably bonded, two devoted mothers and their unexpected miracle baby. But as a foster child, he could be removed from the home at any time. Adoption was imperative! But who should adopt, April? Or Jayne? Because in Michigan, only one of them can be his mother.
Yes, you read that right. Under Michigan law, only heterosexual married couples, or single people are eligible to adopt. The committed couple who loved this little boy back to life were faced with a Sophie’s Choice sized dilemma; which one of them will adopt this time? I said this time, because this was not the first instance Jayne and April faced that decision. Remember, I told you they are superheroes, and as you might expect with superheroes, Jacob was not the first baby Jayne and April have rescued.
Three weeks before Jacob came into their lives, Ryanne found her way to Jayne and April. Ryanne was the third child of a 19-year-old mother who relinquished her under Michigan’s Safe Haven law, which allows new mothers to surrender their newborns within 3 days of birth, no questions asked. Because her mother had no prenatal care, Ryanne started life with a mountain to climb just to get back to sea level, so even as they were struggling hour-by-hour, day-to-day to save Jacob, Jayne and April were also fighting for and bonding with their brand new daughter, who also required special care and therapy appointments. Today, at two, Ryanne is age-appropriately shy, clinging to her Momma and her Mommy when strangers are near, but she’s making tremendous progress. Ryanne is happy and very bright – as bright as her future.
Finally, there’s three-year-old Nolan, big brother of the three siblings, who came to Jayne and April as a newborn in a private adoption a year and a week before his sister Ryanne arrived. He’s smart and creative and loves to sing along with Adele, and he’s into all the things that interest active little boys, who, as every mother knows, are quite often a full-time job in themselves.
I would like all the mothers reading this to pause for a moment and consider this irrefutable evidence of Jayne and April’s superpowers. They took on three babies in diapers at the same time. There ought to be a medal.
But alas, there will be no congratulatory awards coming from the State of Michigan. Three times now the state has forced Jayne and April to “divvy up” their children. Jayne adopted Nolan. April adopted Ryanne. And this most recent time, for Jacob, they decided Jayne should adopt; since April’s adoption of Ryanne was not yet final. April, whose arms carried that tiny bundle from the NICU to give him comfort while he died, is now a “legal stranger” to her own precious son.
I find a lot of my straight friends who hold no ill-will toward gay people, but have had no personal experience with them, are under the impression a gay couple can draw up legal contracts and agreements between themselves so that they have all the rights and privileges of a married couple. Jayne and April prove that is hardly the case. But it is not just their own rights that have been shortchanged by the law. In fact, nothing less than the security and future happiness of their children could be at stake.
There are many legal protections Nolan, Ryanne and Jacob are denied by the Michigan law, like insurance eligibility, inheritance rights and disability benefits, but the most glaring injustice is what could happen if either Jayne or April should die. The surviving parent would have no legal claim to the child of her partner. And the child who just lost one parent to death could lose his other parent and his siblings at the whim of the State of Michigan.
There is however, something that Michigan doesn’t know about Jayne and April, and that’s how hard they will fight for their children. Jayne and April have filed a lawsuit against Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and Attorney General Bill Schutte, claiming that the Michigan adoption law is “discriminatory, irrational, and only has the effect of hurting children and destabilizing families” and that it “violates their right to Equal Protection under the United States Constitution.” A win could change the lives of tens of thousands of Michigan children, but that’s what superheroes do, they fight for justice.
The anti-gay lobbies complain that, in some amorphous way I never really understood, same-sex couples are a threat to their families. Looking at the situation Jayne and April find themselves in, it is very clear to me that the opposite is true. Wally and the Beaver are doing just fine. It’s Nolan and Ryanne and Jacob whose future the law has made precarious.
So today, we tip our hats to Momma April Deboer and Mommy Jayne Rowse. We wish them a swift court victory and a long and happy life together- and of course a happy Mothers Day. Today they have put the issue of “family equality” On Our Radar.