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October 20, 2014

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Gay adoptive parents live as a ‘normal family’ but yearn for the right to marry

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Leila Navidi

Greg Flamer, left, with his partner Fletcher Whitwell play with their daughter Hudson Whitwell, 2, outside their home in Las Vegas on Wednesday, May 22, 2013.

Hudson and Her Dads

Fletcher Whitwell, left, and his partner Greg Flamer walk with their daughter Hudson Whitwell, 2, outside their home in Las Vegas on Wednesday, May 22, 2013. Launch slideshow »

The blue yogurt oozed out of its plastic pouch, surprising 2-year-old Hudson Whitwell and landing on her father’s hands but narrowly missing the living room couch.

Greg Flamer and his partner, Fletcher Whitwell, shrugged off the near miss. It’s daily life with a toddler — in their case, a blue-eyed little girl with dark blonde hair curling at the ends. She calls them “Daddy Greg” and “Daddy Fletcher.”

Like any first-time parents, they’re learning by the day and relying on some sage advice from a well-known parenting guru: “The Dr. Spock books are really spot-on,” Whitwell said.

They live in a spacious Summerlin home that boasts four bedrooms, a three-car garage, an outdoor pool and a sizable patch of grass in the backyard. The environment screams family atmosphere, and it is.

Flamer and Whitwell, a gay couple, consider themselves and their adopted daughter a family like anyone else in the gated neighborhood. They love each other and spend their nonworking hours as a family unit. They take Hudson to swimming lessons and gymnastics classes. They go out for an occasional brunch or dinner. They travel to see relatives.

“I feel like we’re a very normal family and treated as such,” Flamer, 40, said.

But the road to becoming a family was a difficult one because of Nevada’s ban on same-sex marriage, which added extra steps throughout the adoption process, they said. Flamer and Whitwell are one of eight couples that filed suit in April 2012 to overturn Nevada’s ban on same-sex marriage.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for Nevada, is now clogged in the appeals process, but a bill making its way through the Legislature could yield the same desired outcome. Senate Joint Resolution 13 would repeal language in the Nevada Constitution defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

SRJ13 cleared one hurdle in April when the state Senate approved it. Next up: a full vote by the state Assembly. SJR13 then would have to be approved by the Legislature again in 2015 and then approved by voters in 2016.

“I think the momentum is shifting” toward acceptance of same-sex marriage, Whitwell, 38, said. “Unfortunately, these laws are on the books, and the law’s the law.”

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Hudson Whitwell, 2, inside her home in Las Vegas on Wednesday, May 22, 2013.

Twelve states and the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriage, said Sarah Warbelow, state legislative director for the Human Rights Campaign. Rhode Island, Delaware and Minnesota are the most recent states to grant marriage equality.

“This is the opportunity for Nevadans to think about the issue of marriage equality,” Warbelow said. “The legislative process is just the beginning, not the end.”

Whitwell and Flamer recently celebrated their 15th anniversary as a couple, but they would like a wedding anniversary, too.

“We just hope it happens sooner rather than later,” Flamer said.

•••

Flamer and Whitwell met in Chicago in 1998. Flamer was graduating with a master’s degree from Northwestern University; Whitwell was interviewing for a job.

They have been together ever since. In 2007, they moved to Las Vegas, where Whitwell is a senior vice president at R&R Partners, an advertising and communications firm. Flamer works as a supervisor for Clark County’s Department of Family Services licensing foster homes.

“We enjoyed traveling and growing our careers,” Whitwell said. “We always knew family was important, but we weren’t at that time ready.”

By 2010, they decided the timing was right to expand their family. They attended an orientation about adoption that summer and chose a private adoption agency in California that welcomed same-sex couples.

They created a four-page, color brochure about their life and hopes for a family, promising to “provide our child with a lifetime of unconditional love and security.” Their family profile went live online in October 2010.

On Dec. 27, 2010, they received a phone call — from a pregnant woman in a small Oklahoma town. A week later, the woman told Whitwell and Flamer she wanted to “match” with them, meaning verbally commit to choosing them as her unborn child’s adoptive parents.

“The whole process is really up and down,” Whitwell said. “You’re thrilled, but then you don’t want to get your hopes up too much.”

Even so, the couple started buying furniture, painting the nursery and surveying family and friends for parenting advice: What should we expect? What type of formula should we buy?

They also chose a name: Hudson Rae, a name suitable for a boy or a girl because they didn’t initially know the baby’s gender.

Those were the preparations that went smoothly. The legal work was another story.

Flamer and Whitwell are domestic partners as allowed under Nevada law. But because they aren’t married, Whitwell had to apply for a single-parent adoption in Oklahoma.

During the adoption process, they also had to hire another adoption agency and lawyer in Oklahoma, in addition to the California adoption agency and a Las Vegas-based lawyer.

Costs ballooned. All told, they spent nearly $60,000, Whitwell and Flamer said.

Click to enlarge photo

Greg Flamer, left, with his partner Fletcher Whitwell play with their daughter Hudson Whitwell, 2, outside their home in Las Vegas on Wednesday, May 22, 2013.

Licensed private agency adoptions can cost from $5,000 to more than $40,000, depending on the situation, according to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Hudson Rae Whitwell — all 7 pounds, 14 ounces of her — arrived on March 10, 2011. Whitwell cut the umbilical cord, and her birth mother signed paperwork days later approving the adoption. The biological father eventually followed suit.

Whitwell and Flamer were the hospital’s first gay adoptive parents, they said.

•••

The couple, with their newborn daughter in tow, headed home to Las Vegas.

“For the first six months, Fletcher was the legal parent, and I had to carry around a piece of paper that he was giving me permission,” Flamer said.

The legal hassle ended Sept. 22, 2011, when a Las Vegas judge finalized the adoption.

Now, hair bows in every color hang from a bookshelf in Hudson’s room, miniature dresses line her closet and children’s books like “Goodnight Moon” lie on the carpet.

“We have a lot of friends who are parents, straight and gay,” Flamer said. “I think we’re doing a pretty good job. She’s definitely well provided for and loved.”

Flamer and Whitwell would like to adopt again to give Hudson a sibling, but the obstacles associated with their classification as an “unmarried” couple make them uneasy.

But their desire to be married goes beyond procedures and benefits, they said. It’s symbolic of their love for each other and maybe even a little old-fashioned: They want to raise their daughter and any future children in a married household.

“We’ve flown to every corner of the country going to all our friends’ weddings,” Flamer said. “We’ve seen how wonderful it is for the whole family. That would be nice.”