Family Values: Is A Baby Boy Named Emil A Minnesota First?

Family Values: Anj Ronay (left) and Steph Johnson pose for a family portrait with their infant son, Emil, who was born Aug. 22. Big brother Arlo looks on. Click on picture to see the full story. Photo by Sheil Regan

Family Values: Steph Johnson (left) and Anj Ronay pose for a family portrait with their infant son, Emil, who was born Aug. 22. Big brother Arlo looks on. Click on picture to see the full story. Photo by Sheila Regan

Editor’s note: Is a baby from Minneapolis named Emil — who has a big brother named Arlo — the first Minnesota child born to a same-sex couple whose marriage is recognized by the state? Well, he just might be — unless we hear of a baby born before Aug. 22 to another married same-sex couple. It’s not an important distinction — all children of same-sex families are precious, of course, like all children. Still, it’s fun to think how Minnesota families are evolving. If you have a baby born since Aug. 1, send a photo to nick.coleman@theuptake.org and we may put together a photo album of children born under the new law! In the meantime, here is Emil’s story.

Story for The UpTake by Sheila Regan

Though they were legally married in Canada seven years ago and already have one child, lesbian couple Anj Ronay and Steph Johnson were thrilled to welcome their second son, Emil Thomas, into the world on August 22nd, less than a month after same-sex marriage became legally recognized in the state of Minnesota.

Born at home in Minneapolis with the help of a team of midwives, Emil arrived in a birth tub, weighing in at 8 pounds and 7 ounces.

The couple decided not to have a ceremony when same sex marriage became legal on August 1st, but may have some kind of celebration later this year. For them, the new law comes as a relief and adds a sense of security.

“We’ve been married for years and years, it’s just now we can actually anticipate (in) getting social security benefits if one of us gets hit by a bus,” said Johnson.

Ronay and Johnson met on January 1, 2000, in the Twin Cities, when they were both home for the holidays. At the time, Johnson was attending college in Wisconsin, and Ronay was at the University of Minnesota – Duluth.

“We were young,” Johnson said. “We were 23 and 22, which is really young in the GLBT community.”

“We don’t have a lot of same-age role models,” Ronay said.

They had their first date at a coffee shop in Uptown called Pandora’s Cup, and soon they went their separate ways, Johnson back to college, and Ronay to spend a semester abroad. But after emailing each other, they eventually found each other again and became a serious couple.

The conversation about kids started within the first two years of their relationship, though at first it was mostly just making sure they were on the same page about what their hopes were. “You have to be very intentional about having a family,” Johnson said.

One of the turning points in choosing to get married came when they moved together to New Mexico, where Ronay attended graduate school. “It really became evident there, starting our lives in a new community, that we were family and that this is what a marriage partnership was,” she said. The realization was spurred by one of Johnson’s colleagues who told her how nice it was that she came to New Mexico with Ronay.

“I was like, really? ‘Nice?’ You wouldn’t say that to someone’s spouse,” Ronay said.

“If your husband got transferred for work, you wouldn’t get praise from your new co-workers that you moved with him,” said Johnson.

“I just wanted the same recognition socially and from family,” Ronay said.

After Ronay finished graduate school in New Mexico, Johnson told her that she was ready to buy a house and start a family. So the two of them made the commitment to make a family together, and they moved to Austin, Texas while Johnson went to work on her PhD.

In the summer of 2006, Ronay proposed to Johnson at nearly the same spot as their first date, at Namaste Café, which is next door to where Pandora’s Cup had once been. They were married in 2006, at the winter solstice. They had been visiting Minnesota for the holidays, drove up to Thunder Bay, Ontario, and found a rock on the shore of Lake Superior to stand on where they were married — just themselves, the witnesses, and an official in attendance. Afterwards, they drove back to the Twin Cities and celebrated with a small gathering of friends on the day before Christmas.

Once they were married, Johnson and Ronay began trying to get pregnant. It took two and a half years before they had their first son, Arlo Otis, who is now three and a half years old.

Johnson and Ronay moved home to Minnesota when Ronay became pregnant because at the time, Minnesota didn’t have any laws on the books that were limiting to their family. While the state hadn’t legalized same sex marriage, it hadn’t passed a Constitutional ban against it, either. They did a second parent adoption, with Johnson’s name added to Arlo’s birth certificate.

They were livid when, last year, the state Legislature put the so-called “marriage amendment” on the ballot — a measure, that had it passed, would have outlawed same-sex marriage in Minnesota. Both of them got involved in the campaign to defeat the amendment. A month after the voters rejected the amendment, Johnson became pregnant. She wept when she learned the marriage amendment had been voted down, overjoyed to imagine what marriage equality might mean to the lives of her children.

“It was because of (them), not because of us. My (children) don’t have to live in a state where people tell (them) their parents’ love for each other is illegal,” she said. She hopes that the social stigma of having two moms will be less for their children’s generation.

When Johnson was a teenager working out her own sexuality, she couldn’t even imagine getting married, let alone having children. When she came out to her mother as a teen, her mother cried because of her fears about how society would react. Now, Johnson’s mom introduces Ronay as her daughter-in-law, and is one of the caretakers for their children, since Johnson works full time as an engineer and Ronay works part time as a social worker.

For Ronay, knowing that she and her wife are legally recognized in Minnesota “gives me an extra spring in my step,” she said. “I don’t need to cater to people’s comfort levels… I have a little more confidence,” she said.

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