'Everything just felt right and comfortable'

By Ellen McCarthy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 28, 2010; E10

Richard Imirowicz landed in Washington with the intent to find a boyfriend -- pronto. It was 1997, and he'd just finished a medical residency that had left him little time for a social life. With that completed and a new city before him, the child psychiatrist was on a single-minded mission: "To find somebody and get into a relationship."

"I was so intense," he says. "It scared a lot of people off. I had to calm down, dating-wise."

Terrance Heath had taken an opposite tack when he arrived in Washington three years earlier. The Georgia native hadn't had much luck finding dates during high school or college, so in D.C. he "was like a kid in a candy store," he says. "I wanted nothing to do with relationship commitment. For a long period I dated one person after another after another and just kind of flitted back and forth."

But something in Heath started to yearn for a deeper connection by the time he posted a profile on an AOL dating site. Imirowicz, who had put up his own ad early in the summer of 2000, noticed Heath's big smile and returned repeatedly to look at his photo. He never wrote, though -- Heath was a vegetarian, Imirowicz an avowed carnivore.

"I thought he would never want me," explains Imirowicz, now 43.

So when Heath wrote to him, setting up a June lunch date, Imirowicz had pretty much "picked out the china patterns" before they even met. "I was like, 'Oh my God. I've been looking for him,' " Imirowicz recalls. "I finally found somebody I can have my whole life with."

Heath, a writer, was more restrained. It wasn't until the second date, when they held hands for the first time, that he began to think, "Okay, I like this. This is good. . . . I want to see where this is going."

Then Imirowicz did something that surprised even himself: He called it off. An ex-boyfriend he'd dated for 18 months wanted to give things one more shot, and Imirowicz agreed, thinking he "didn't want to be a flaky relationship person."

He told Heath as much, but then continued to call and invite him to hang out as friends. When Imirowicz leaned in for a kiss that September, Heath was confused. "I asked, 'So what's the deal with this boyfriend thing?' " Heath says. It had finally ended for good, Imirowicz told him, and by October, the "boyfriend" title had been passed on to Heath.

"It was just incredibly easy," remembers Heath, 41. "I was amazed at how not strange it was. Everything just felt right and comfortable -- I can't explain it."

Both had parents who rejected their sons' sexuality, so the pair kept their relationship under wraps, even when they bought a house together in August 2001. That fall they flew to Hawaii and privately exchanged rings on a secluded beach.

The following spring, Heath and Imirowicz began the process of applying for an adoption. In November 2002, they were informed that they'd been selected for the adoption of boy who was already a few days old. That evening, they sped to Pennsylvania, stopping at a Babies 'R' Us along the way, to pick up their son, Parker. Because adoption laws required them to stay in the state until the paperwork is finalized, their first three weeks as parents were spent in an extended-stay hotel in a town where they knew no one.

Over the next few years they made inroads with their parents, bringing Parker to family gatherings at the holidays. At one point, when Imirowicz was out of the room with Parker, his mother turned to Heath and, as he recalls, said, "I'm really happy that Richard has you in his life."

Some years later Heath's mother would offer a similar blessing, saying, " 'The most important thing is for a child to have good parents.' And she meant us," he recalls.

By the time Parker was a toddler, the couple decided they wanted a second child. After several years and a wrenching failed adoption -- the birth mother changed her mind four times before ultimately deciding to keep the child -- they got word that a baby boy was waiting for them in New Jersey. This time they spent nearly month in a hotel room parenting an infant and a 5-year-old.

Heath and Imirowicz, who live in Chevy Chase, had already worked with a lawyer to protect their partnership legally -- crafting wills and giving each other power of attorney. And in 2006 they'd exchanged vows in a commitment ceremony on a Rosie O'Donnell cruise for gay families. But when it became apparent that gay marriage would be legalized in D.C. and that marriages would be recognized in Maryland, they started making plans to wed.

Three years earlier the two had taken Parker to Annapolis to lobby for same-sex marriage. "The rules are that daddies and papas can't get married. We were going ask them to change that,' " Imirowicz remembers explaining. "And a week after he asked, 'So did they change the rules?' And I said 'No, it's going to take a long time to change that.' "

As they shopped for a new suit earlier this month, Imirowicz told Parker, now 7, that the rule had been changed: Daddies and papas can marry. "He said, 'Does that mean you'll be married for ever and ever and ever?' And I said, 'I said I sure hope so.' "

"That's the plan," Heath added.

On March 9, the first day it was possible to legally wed in D.C., Imirowicz, Heath, Parker and their younger son, Dylan, now 2, entered All Souls Unitarian Church on 16th Street for what Heath called "a family wedding." As Imirowicz and Heath kissed for the first time as a married couple, Parker wrapped his arms around them both.

That night, the couple and their children dined at Clyde's and returned home to find champagne and roses on their front porch.

"In a lot of ways we're the same family we were as when we left that afternoon -- but a very big change happened as well," Heath says. "To be able to make a commitment to each other publicly and to have it recognized and supported in our community -- it means a lot."

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