When I met Denise in 2006, I knew right away it was love. But it wasn’t long after we met that Denise, a member of the Pennsylvania National Guard, left for basic training. It was tough, knowing I couldn’t be near the person I was falling in love. But we wrote letters to each other constantly—and despite the distance, it was during that time that I felt that I grew closer to Denise than ever.
After two amazing years together, we finally wed in front of family and friends, including Denise’s 10-year-old daughter Keisha. But, only two weeks after our wedding, Denise was deployed to Iraq, leaving my new stepdaughter Keisha and I to live together.
I had never been a parent before, and I have to admit, it was so intimidating at first! But Keisha and I bonded quickly. We cooked dinners together, I helped her with her homework and we even bought furniture together for the apartment we would move into once Denise returned from Iraq. It was my first real, authentic experience as a mom and I felt so proud that Keisha trusted me to be her parent, in addition to Denise. It was the most incredible feeling I have ever felt, to see her look up at me and smile, for her to grab my hand as we walk through the store, to be responsible for this amazing child. It was a love I didn’t know I could feel—a mother’s love.
Years have passed and Keisha is 16 now. Denise finished up her service with the National Guard, and we are finally living as a happy family at our home in Lancaster. Together, we’re facing the challenges and joys of raising a teenager head-on—teaching Keisha how to drive, shopping for school clothes and getting ready for summer vacation, just like any other family.
But in Pennsylvania, we aren’t treated like any other family. In the Keystone State, I am a legal stranger to Denise and Keisha. And without the freedom to marry—and the protections only marriage can provide—I have no way to protect my wife and daughter in case of an emergency. And it is terrifying, to say the least. We’ve built a family together, we’re raising a daughter together, and we are a family—but Pennsylvania’s marriage ban stands in the way of my family being respected.
This Mother’s Day, I ask you to think of the mothers out there, like myself, who love their child with all their heart, but cannot protect them until same-sex couples can share in the freedom to marry. Only by bringing marriage equality to Pennsylvania can families like ours can finally be whole.