The first time someone asked Madison Ayoso what her dad did for a living, she was confused.
Madison doesn’t have a dad. Neither does her brother Ben Farrar.
“Families come in all different forms,” Farrar said to a small assembly gathered outside the Discovery Gateway Children’s Museum on Thursday. “Two incredible moms raised me and my sister. ... I wouldn’t want to trade my family for anything in the entire world.”
It was the first time Madison, 21, and Ben, 19, have spoken publicly about their family.
Their mothers, Sally and Brenda Farrar, said they’ve always been private people. They put their children first, stayed out of the spotlight, tried to focus on the things they could control — going to baseball games and awards ceremonies, taking trips to Disney World and large Sunday family dinners — instead of the politics that seemed so beyond their reach.
But when U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby overturned Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage in December, the women said, it was an awakening for their children.
“I guess we always thought they were married; we never really had any reason to question it,” said Ben Farrar, who will be graduating with honors this week before going to college in Montana on a baseball scholarship. “When we started hearing people talking about how gay couples can’t raise kids the same as straight couples, we wanted to come out and say something. Our moms raised their kids just as good — better even — than a lot of straight couples do. Our home growing up was always full of love. We’re no different.”
That’s why the sister and brother decided to join with Utah Unites for Marriage, Equality Utah, the Neighborhood House and Tumbleweeds Children’s Film Festival at an open “all families” event Thursday and tell their story.
“I used to be really shy about it when I was little,” said Ayoso, a college senior who will be graduating with a degree in biochemistry. “Kids would say things sometimes. It was hard.”
Salt Lake City has one of the highest percentages of same-sex couples with children, according to the Williams Institute at the University of California-Los Angeles. As of last year, about 26 percent of all gay and lesbian couples in the metro area were raising children.
But these families are largely unrecognized by the state, which in recent months has asked for legal clarity on the validity of adoptions by married gay couples and argued to reinstate Utah’s ban on same-sex unions at the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Central to the state’s argument has been the welfare of children.
Lawyers representing the attorney general’s office and Gov. Gary Herbert have argued that adopting a “genderless definition of marriage” would send the message that a mom and a dad aren’t important to the rearing of a child.
They have pointed to, but later backed away from, the findings of Mark Regnerus of the University of Texas, who offered research to bolster the claim that opposite-sex parenting is the “gold standard” for children.
The American Sociological Society has found that children raised by two parents tend to do well, regardless of their parents’ gender. They filed a brief in support of the plaintiffs in Utah’s ongoing battle over the voter-approved ban on gay and lesbian unions.
The fight itself is hurtful for families to hear, several said Thursday.
“There’s no reason our children ought to be punished because of us,” said Sally Farrar, Madison’s and Ben’s mother, who has been with her wife, Brenda, for 29 years. “We are who we are.”
Inside the brightly colored walls of the children’s museum, infants lay cradled in their parents’ arms, toddlers spun wheels and splashed water, children gathered around for story time and families of all different shapes and sizes said they felt welcome.
“This is great,” said Kirt Bateman, who stood with his husband Jerry Rapier and their 18-month-old son Oscar Bateman-Rapier as the toddler stared wide-eyed at the rushing stream of the museum’s water zone.
“Utah is such a family-centric state,” Bateman said. “It’s been great to meet other parents and families who don’t see our family as any different than theirs.”
That’s how these families should feel all the time, said Brandie Balken, executive director of Equality Utah.
“There are so many different kinds of families,” Balken said. “While they may look different, they have so much in common. ... We’re here to commit to create a Utah where all families are valued.”
Several opposite-sex couples and single parents also attended the event with their children.
The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which heard Utah’s case for reversing Shelby’s decision last month, is expected to issue a ruling in the coming weeks. It could happen any day.
The federal appeals court has put Utah’s historic Kitchen v. Herbert lawsuit on an expedited calendar, meaning they have prioritized it over other pending matters, but there is no set time line for when they might issue a decision.
Regardless of how the judges rule, the case will likely be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.