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 dish-washing and laundry duties, and who put the boys to bed by 8 p.m. every night.
Old-fashioned, except that their parents, Paul Melchert and James Zimmerman…are gay. They are also leading advocates of passage of a Minnesota law that would legalize same-sex marriage and give their twin 4-year-olds parents who have all the legal rights and obligations that only full marriage can convey.
(The boys are familiar to many readers of The UpTake: An UpTake video of them stealing the show at a March 1 press conference calling for a same-sex marriage law has been an Internet hit, with more than 200 thousand views. Click here to watch as Melchert wrestles with Emmet while attempting to speak about the need for same-sex marriage as Emmet grabs his nose).
As cute as the couple’s kids may be, their message is serious: Parents are parents, whatever orientation the may have, and parents should have the right to marry under the law.
“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 will 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 St. Paul for approximately 40 family member and close friends. They walked into 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 altar with all of our family sitting there,” Zimmerman recounts.
“I particularly remember a beautiful toast 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, the two gathered together with opponents of an anti-gay Minnesota ballot amendment that would have constitutionally banned same-sex marriage. But like many Minnesota parents, they couldn’t stay out too late: 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 (declared that the ballot proposal had failed to pass).”
“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. 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 that March 1 press conference at the State Capitol. “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 (when) you say ‘my boyfriend’, ‘my girlfriend’, ‘my spouse’ or ‘my partner’… it doesn’t carry that same important meaning.”
As a physician, Melchert says he is aware of years of studies which show that kids of gay couples do just as well as kids of heterosexual couples. “My anecdotal experiences in the clinic are echoed by the myriad of studies that continue to come out, he says. “After 25 years of research, the children raised by same-sex couples fare equally well in all areas of emotional, psychosocial and behavioral adjustment.”
The day after Easter, on a trip to Washington, D.C., Emmet and Gabriel got to participate in the annual Easter Egg Roll on the White House lawn, like typical American kids have for years.
“The Obama Administration has been wonderful about being inclusive, and have included gay and lesbian families every year since the first year of their administration,” says Melchert. “This is the first time that we’ve had a president who openly expects and wants things to change.”
The twins “realize that our family structure is a little bit different than some people’s,” says Melchert. “But they know a lot of families that have two dads; they know a lot of families that have two moms; they know people of a single mom or a single dad; they have friends that are being raised by grandparents.
“For them, they recognize that every family is a little different, every family is special, and it works out in every way.”