Callum Wiggins meets two same-sex couples raising children.
The Rizzuto-Jennings Family
Walter Jennings and Santo Rizzuto have a son, Ethan Rizzuto-Jennings, 12.
We met on the dancefloor at the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras in Sydney. There were more than 14,000 people at that party. Six months later, we had moved in together. Over the years we spoke about adoption and eventually we were both ready to make that step. We were living in Michigan, USA, when we started the adoption process but we relocated to New York as it allowed both partners in same-sex couples to adopt. If we had stayed in Michigan only one of us could have been the legal parent.
Adoption is difficult in many countries and we’re disappointed with that because there are so many children who would benefit. We had decided we wanted a girl and so we looked to adopt a child from China as so many of orphans there are baby girls.
We got a call on a Monday afternoon to tell us we had been matched with a baby boy in China and had 24 hours to pick a name. We had worked for two years on a good name for a girl and then suddenly we had 24 hours to pick a boy’s name. From the time of that phone call to the time Ethan was collected from China was only 10 days. Ethan was nine months old when we met him and in total the whole adoption process took about two years.
The first few days were a little strange as it’s not like we had gone through Ethan’s birth. He was very quiet and slept twice a day. On top of that, he had been very sick. He had contracted giardia and whooping cough and was also teething.
It’s funny to think back on that whole journey as now we feel like any other parents raising a boy. Daily life consists of worrying about his school schedule, sports practice, sleepovers and noticing him start to pay more attention to girls…
Ethan spent six to seven years living in Australia and we moved to Hong Kong as a family about three-and-a-half years ago. If you ask Ethan his national identity, he would probably say Australian. The first couple of months after moving to Hong Kong was a bit tough for him as he had all his friends back in Australia. However, he has adjusted well and he’s got some wonderful friends here. One of the things we love about Hong Kong is the exposure and worldliness he is gaining. He has friends from diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds and that has helped him to fit in.
Being two gay men with an Asian child, it would be pretty hard for us not to talk about his adoption with him. Every September 15 we celebrate “Gotcha” day, which is the day we first met and adopted him, and we have friends and family over to celebrate. Some of his friends get a bit jealous that he has a birthday and a gotcha day, they ask their parents why can’t they be adopted!
We have spoken to him about going to visit Guangzhou, where he was born, but his reaction is that he doesn’t want or need to go. He doesn’t have any curiosity at all. We’re not going to force him, but when he is ready, if he does ever express a wish to go, we are happy to do that.
We haven’t encountered any problems or discrimination being same-sex parents in Hong Kong. Although the Hong Kong government only tacitly acknowledges our relationship. Our marriage is not recognised in Hong Kong and so Santo can only stay in Hong Kong on a six- month tourist visa, which renews but does not allow him to work or do any kind of business. It’s a very Hong Kong solution in that they’re not going to recognise your relationship but they’re not going to disrespect it either – you end up stuck in no-man’s land.
We have friends who have been together for less time than us, but because they are a man and a woman their marriage is recognised and the spouse gets full residency and working rights. We’ve been together 24 years and married for 12, but our marriage isn’t of the same status. That being said, coming to Hong Kong has been the most wonderful and welcoming experience we could have imagined. We would like to stay here permanently but nothing is ever set in stone. However, for now, Hong Kong is home.
Pictures by Laura Simonsen Photography.
The Hatton-Henigan Family
Patrick Henigan and John Hatton have a daughter, Julianne Hatton-Henigan, 10.
We have been together since 1992. We always talked about maybe having kids or adopting but nothing too seriously for the first few years. I think in the early 2000s, when we moved to the suburbs in Maplewood, New Jersey, we started to research it more.
We contacted Growing Generations, which is one of the biggest surrogacy and egg- donor agencies in the world. They helped us to decide on surrogacy. The organisation did a great job and we were matched with Julianne’s eventual surrogate, Patti. Very quickly a lunch was arranged where we met the potential surrogate without the staff from Growing Generations.
We clicked immediately in terms of our senses of humour and how we felt about bringing a baby into the world. From there we started the process of choosing an egg donor as Patti would be the gestational surrogate. We were living in New Jersey and she was in California. The laws at the time meant the only place where this would be possible was California, which had the most progressive legal structure. We as intended parents and our surrogate signed contractual documents that released parental rights to us. Our names went directly onto the birth certificate.
Each time we travelled to California for the major medical appointments, we got to know Patti better and really bonded. We read and recorded stories and messages and she would play them every day to her belly. It was a big leap of faith and it was difficult at times to be so far away from our surrogate and child. You have to have a lot of trust.
At the time, I was in a law firm and I could work in the LA office. Patti’s due date was October 14, 2004, so I flew out in late September. She went into labour early but the doctors delayed the birth to give John time to arrive. Luckily we were all present at the birth. After the birth, as we were so close to Patti, we stayed with her for 48 hours in the hospital and at her home for three or four days. We flew back to the east coast when Julianne was about 10 days old.
The decision about how to inform Julianne about her birth story was made very early on. By the time she went to preschool she knew how we came to be her dads and was able to articulate all these things about surrogacy to her classmates and anyone who would listen.
Maplewood was very diverse. In her classes there would usually be one or two other kids who had same-sex parents.
Coming to Hong Kong, things are certainly different. There aren’t as many same-sex parent families. We joined the Rainbow Families group, which has allowed us to meet lots of different couples with kids.
Same-sex parent families are much less visible in Hong Kong and it was a concern before we relocated. We wanted
to make sure that we as a family would be comfortable living here. However, we’ve found people very welcoming. I don’t think we’ve had one instance where someone has blinked an eye about the fact that we are two dads raising Julianne. The friends we have met here feel very much like the friends we had back in the US.
Our day-to-day lives are not affected by being same-sex parents, but we know the legal structure isn’t as supportive or welcoming to gay parents.
Morgan Stanley, where I work, has been extremely supportive in helping us to relocate to Hong Kong and they helped us to secure visas and insurance. I know other couples in a similar situation have had a much harder time arranging these kind of matters. The only option available to a partner in a same-sex relationship is a special prolonged visitor visa, which automatically renews every six months. It’s almost become a “gay” visa. Same-sex couples have to go through a few extra hoops in terms of visas and it was certainly more of a struggle than it would have been for a straight couple.
We joke that since becoming parents we’ve given up our gay card. All we do now is parent, family stuff, whether it’s with other same-sex parents or straight parents.
It can be a really powerful thing that people we meet in our day-to-day lives can attach us and our faces to the concept of gay parents. The topic of gay marriage or gay parents is way up there in the political sphere, but when people see the real thing, it becomes normal. In small ways, the more visible you
are and just matter of fact about things then the more accepting that people become. We become the family, not just the “gay” family.
The reality is you have to get through the day; get school stuff ready, get her to the soccer game, put dinner on the table… The last thing we think of is being gay parents.