Feature | Gay Bride: Looking for a legal marriage, Utah same-sex couples are California-bound. 

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How They Make It Work
All three children sleep at Tragakis’s house on Wednesday and Friday nights. He stays home with them on Thursdays during the day, and on weekend days, too. “Sometimes, when Cathy and I are home, we will do three-kid days,” he says. And sometimes they spread the three kids around so the parents can have one-on-one time with each.

“With three adults trying to make decisions, there are a lot of e-mails,” Healey says. “The kids try Mommy, then Mama, then Daddy.” Alex has four sets of grandparents and the twins have three. The nontraditional relationship can occasionally raise questions of logic.

“They would only let me list two parents on our Hogle Zoo pass, even after I explained that we are a three-parent family,” Healey says. Before Cope’s guardianship was complete, she couldn’t visit her own children in the hospital without Healey or Tragakis. They say that establishing the legal documents to protect their family financially and medically, such as durable health care and durable power of attorney–have cost a fortune, but they were worth it.

Now that 7-year-old Alex is in school, Tragakis says, “It really is clear that although gay parenting is more common, it is still alternate. Part of me feels some worry and fear about what it will be like for these kids to grow up.” He says he hears stories from Alex at school, “and there is already a real pressure to have a certain kind of family that is the majority with one mom and one dad in one house. He’ll say ‘I wish you guys lived in the same house’ without fully understanding that Cathy and Janet are in the relationship, and I am not. There is a complexity to it that they will have to negotiate–but I don’t think it’s harmful.”

Tragakis’ partner, John Apel, is 55 and works as a psychiatric nurse. He was previously married to a woman. His two children are in their 20s. “John’s relationship with my young children is something that is developing for him,” Tragakis says, “because he has done this before and felt good about the fact that he had raised his children.” Tragakis, Apel and the children recently traveled to Massachusetts to visit Tragakis’ family. “My two brothers are both straight and married,” Tragakis says. “This visit was the first time I felt I had my place at the table—with a great romantic relationship and three beautiful kids.”

click to enlarge john-michaeltragakis.jpg
Tragakis hopes his current relationship will also proceed to a legal marriage. “By the time I came out of the closet in college, I had only experienced a little bit of being heterosexual, because of social pressure. I’ve never had a marriage, which a lot of people have by age 23. Now, I get a little starry-eyed at the idea, and I would like to get married to my partner.”

Cope and Healey took the extra step of marriage in spite of an overwhelming opposition to their relationship in Utah. “They say marriage is for straight people, and we’re not straight,” Healey says. “But you grow up your whole life being excited to marry the person you love. Then, if you are gay, it’s suddenly, ‘No, you can’t.’ Now I can say, ‘This is my wife, Janet,’ in California. In Utah, she’s my roommate.”

They hoped to hold out to marry in Utah, “But now, we just hope that we are alive long enough to renew our vows here. We may be using walkers, but we’ll be first in line.”

While these couples are committed to the idea of legal same-sex marriage, the vast majority of Utah voters decided otherwise, by amending the state Constitution to drive that point home. “The law in Utah, which is based on the Constitution, states that marriage is only between a man and a woman,” says Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff. “If a [same-sex] couple goes to California to marry, and then comes back here, should they sue for the state to recognize their marriage here, we would have to defend the Constitution and say that the state would not recognize that marriage.”

Some constitutional scholars, however, argue that the U.S. Constitution requires states to recognize legal contracts from other states under its “fair faith and credit” clause. In the case of a marriage—a legal contract—performed in California, Utah might be legally bound to recognize those unions.

Earlier this year, Shurtleff petitioned the California Supreme Court, requesting the state wait until after the Nov. 4 election to legalize the marriages. The court denied the petition. On Aug. 4, California Attorney General Jerry Brown released a statement that the thousands of gay and lesbian weddings conducted since the state Supreme Court legalized the unions on May 15 will probably remain valid (in California). With so many legal theories and educated guesses swirling around the issue, it’s difficult to know how the marriages will eventually be viewed under the law.

But legal interpretation of their relationship hasn’t deterred many couples, including lawyers Martha Amundsen and Lisa Altman. “Our relationship on a personal level will not be affected whatsoever,” Amundsen says. “We are committed to each other and will continue to live as any married couple lives as we have before we were legally married. And we’ll continue to do so regardless of the outcome of Proposition 8.”

In his life beyond the Legislature, 38-year-old Scott McCoy is also an attorney. “I hope someday the state of Utah will recognize [same-sex marriage],” he says, adding that the people who marry in California today will go back to their home states. “They will live their lives, and in the course of living their lives, life will happen to them. Some of those relationships will break up. Some will suffer tragedy and one of the partners will become incapacitated or die.” Then the law in those respective states will have to deal with the situation.

“Same-sex marriage is not an issue that Utah is going to be able to hide from forever,” McCoy says. There are real-life issues the state of Utah will be forced to deal with eventually. “A resident California couple will be driving across Utah and get in a car accident. One of them dies and there has to be a distribution of that property. The Utah courts will have to decide whether to treat them as legal strangers or treat them as if they are married. These legal questions will slowly but surely have to be dealt with.

“In a way,” he says, “Utah has tried to build a sandbag wall as high and strong as possible—but I don’t think it is going to be able to keep back the flood.”

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