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Two fathers and their family


This article has been published with the permission of attorney Mitchell Katine.  Visit Mitchell Katine online at http://gaymarriagelawyers.com/Texas.htm 


Two fathers and their family
Gay Houston couple completes their lives with the adoption of two Latin American children

By PENNY WEAVER

In the courtroom, gay Houston attorney Mitchell Katine argues cases including the landmark challenge to the Texas sodomy law, which goes before the U.S. Supreme Court this spring.

At home, these days, he chuckles as his 5-month-old daughter grabs at his shirt with her little hands and slobbers on his bright red necktie.

"Look at that beautiful baby!" he says to little Sebrina in a playful voice, holding her on his lap as she faces him. She stands firmly on his legs, her wide brown eyes taking in the happy face of her dad.

"She's a stander. He's a jumper," Katine explains of Sebrina and her brother, Sebastian, also 5 months old. Katine's partner, Walter Arila, sits nearby with Sebastian contentedly lounging in his arms.

Just about a month ago, Katine and Arila joined an increasing number of gay couples who are having children. Katine calls the arrival of Sebastian and Sebrina a dream come true.

"I've wanted children for all of my adult life, and have tried lots of various methods of getting children," Katine explains. "[I've tried] with different friends, couples, through artificial insemination attempts, through surrogacy…lots of different methods for the last 20 years…and never really thought about adoption seriously until just recently.

"I thought it would be more difficult than it was," he says. "I thought that there would be problems or things that prevented us from doing that. Come to find out, it actually wasn't difficult at all. A lot of people are doing it."

Already with a successful career and relationship under way, for Katine and many other gays, the next natural step is children.

"This is probably the last thing that I really want to do and succeed at — helping raise the children with Walter," he says. "Having children is part of life."

The makings of a family

Katine, 42, and Arila, 31, met about three years ago at Club Inergy, a gay Latino nightclub in Houston. Katine is a native of Florida who came to Houston in 1982 to attend the South Texas College of Law. He currently works as an attorney with Williams, Birnberg & Andersen LLC.

Arila, an El Salvador native, has lived in the Bayou City for more than 10 years. He recently earned his cosmetology license and plans to work as a hairdresser when the children are a little older.

"Walter comes from a very large family and has always loved children," Katine says. "When we got together, we were ready. We bought this house and settled down.

"He and I were ready to start a family," Katine adds. "It started with one dog, and then we got a second dog."

The new father explains that experiencing the responsibility of raising a pet was a first step toward parenthood.

"For people thinking about it, we really feel that…raising our dogs from puppies was very helpful for our relationship and preparing us to have children. Not totally, but in a lot of respects," Katine says. "The main difference is that the children require 24-hour attention. But it helped us in our relationship to work out some differences in preparing to raise children. That is good preparation."

Arila had helped raise some of his younger siblings in his large family. Plus, Katine adds, the two also served as volunteers at the Texas Children's Hospital as "baby holders." After a training session, they visited the hospital and held newborn babies for two hours at a time.

"It gave us some good preparation and some good training," he recalls.

The Katine family expansion — once two dogs were part of the household — began in earnest about a year ago. The couple went through Family to Family Adoptions Inc., a full-service adoption agency for domestic and international adoptions. Katine was referred to Family to Family by other gay parents who are part of the Houston Gay & Lesbian Parents organization.

The first decision for Katine and Arila was to choose between a domestic or international adoption. For adoptions within the United States, prospective parents must create a photo album and wait for a birth mother to pick them.

"That could take a while," Katine admits.

With international adoptions, couples are more likely to adopt children as infants and not have to wait as long. Plus, Katine and Arila wanted both a boy and a girl, and prospective parents may more easily choose the gender of their children via international adoptions.

"We decided that the quickest way to get children would be through an international adoption through a Latin American country," Katine says. "This was a better way to get a boy and a girl."

The couple went through medical, psychological, financial and other screenings. Katine made one visit to see the children prior to bringing them home, and that allowed each to automatically become a U.S. citizen when they arrived in Houston.

It was mid-December when the couple received confirmation that the adoption of Sebastian and Sebrina had gone through — the same week that the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would hear the challenge to the Texas sodomy law, for which Katine is local counsel.

Both were momentous occasions in Katine's life, but there is little contest between the two as his priorities.

"Having the children to me is more important. It all happened at the same time. I usually tell people that getting the children was the more important special thing, even though the other is very important, so that helps put it in perspective of the significance of having the children," he explains.

The court case goes before the Supreme Court in March or April, and the justices will hand down a decision by mid-year. Katine is one of the attorneys representing John Lawrence and Tyrone Garner in the case, known as Lawrence and Garner v. Texas. The case challenges the Texas sodomy or "homosexual conduct" law, which applies only to gays, and the court's decision could make history for gay rights.

So while Katine was propelled again into the legal spotlight, he also welcomed his children home, on Dec. 20.

"After a year of working at it…it was hard to believe, a little scary, but very exciting," he recalls of the feelings that overwhelmed the two new dads as they brought Sebastian and Sebrina home. "[We were so] happy that a dream had finally been realized.

"And then we weren't sure if we were going to have them for Christmas or not, but we did!" he says happily.

More gays adopt

Debbie Seiler is office manager for Family to Family, which handles international and domestic adoptions for all types of couples. The organization started its work in early 2001 and treats same-sex couples just like any other prospective parents.

"We feel everyone should be able to adopt," Seiler said. "We're seeing quite a few [gay prospective parents]. They want the same thing everybody else wants — they want a family. I think they make wonderful, wonderful parents."

Family to Family plans its annual seminar for prospective parents this Saturday, Jan. 18, and the Katines will be among adoptive couples offering advice to other couples.

"It's basically for prospective adoptive parents to get all their questions answered," Seiler said of the seminar, to be held at Shoney's in Sugarland. "It's like a fact-finding mission."

The number of gay couples who adopt children is growing, as is support for these parents.

In early December, the American Psychiatric Association's Board of Trustees approved a position statement supporting adoption and co-parenting of children by gay couples.

The statement said the 37,000-member organization "supports initiatives which allow same-sex couples to adopt and co-parent children and supports all the associated legal rights, benefits and responsibilities which arise from such initiatives."

"It's more evidence that mainstream organizations support the idea of gay and lesbian families and changing the law to make it easier for gay, lesbian and bisexual couples to adopt children," said Dan Hicks, a member of the APA Committee on Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Issues.

The decision followed similar actions earlier in 2002 by the American Psychoanalytic Association and the American Academy of Family Physicians.

The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a technical report in February 2002 that cited a growing body of scientific studies that show children with one or two gay parents fare as well as children whose parents are heterosexual.

But some gay activists are concerned that a proposed measure before this year's Texas Legislature that would prevent gays from being foster parents might mushroom into a debate over gay adoption as well. Couples like Katine and Arila might then find families like theirs at the center of public discussion.

Right now, though, the two new fathers are focused on feedings and diaper changes, primary colors and the children's room, painted by Arila, which includes a ceiling that depicts a blue sky with fluffy white clouds. The process to adopt Sebastian and Sebrina continues for Katine and Arila. In the Latin American country where the children were born, Katine achieved a single-parent adoption. Now, the couple will re-adopt the babies as co-parents.

"That's all do-able and being done here in Texas. We would hate for there to be a law that would prohibit us from having two parents for these two children," Katine says. "We certainly think that for any child, having two parents is better than one."

Like all new parents, they are adjusting to their children's needs.

"Our schedules have totally changed now. Although Sebrina sleeps through the night, Sebastian doesn't. He gets up every three hours for a bottle," Katine explains. "So Walter and I both get up and both feel somewhat tired in the day."

Both men's parents have been supportive, even starting college funds already for the infants. The two get advice on child rearing from plenty of family members and friends, both gay and straight. Arila's sister Estella is on hand for a while to assist with caring for the babies.

The men also are aware of having a female influence in the lives of their children.

"Everybody has lots of suggestions and everybody's been very supportive," Katine says. "There are lots of people to give us advice. We are planning on having their aunts who live here help us provide the female role models, as well as our friends.

"We understand that things are going to be special for them, having two fathers and no mother, and we're planning on being honest with the children and explaining to them how lucky we are that they came into our lives," he explains. "[We will] try to answer whatever questions and concerns come up as best as possible."

For these two freshmen fathers, the trend for gays toward parenthood is a natural one.

"I think it's because…they're feeling good about themselves and they want, just like we want, to have the same things that everybody in America wants: having a family and having children that you teach and help grow and become good citizens and give back," Katine says. "Really just very, very emotionally, I'm very happy with my career and success in life and our relationship, and if I did not have children in my life, it would probably be the biggest regret that I could ever imagine."

But Katine need not worry about that. Two little dreams come true named Sebastian and Sebrina now can allow these two gay Houston dads to forget regrets and focus on love, laughter and the miracle that is family.

10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 18
Family to Family adoption seminar
At the Shoney's in Sugarland
Family to Family Adoptions Inc.
1000 Austin St., Suite B
Richmond, TX 77469
www.fam2fam.org 
281-342-4042

Houston Gay & Lesbian Parents
9955 S. Post Oak Rd., PMB# 263
Houston, TX 77096
713-284-4939
http://hglp.org/

This article has been published with the permission of attorney Mitchell Katine.  Visit Mitchell Katine online at http://gaymarriagelawyers.com/Texas.htm