In the chaos that comes with watching four young children, Reece Scheer didn’t hear the phone ring. A stay-at-home dad, his days are spent in a tangle of knobby limbs in a house where the television is more likely to be tuned to cartoons than the news. So he had no idea on Wednesday that, with a single decision, his world had just changed until he read a text message sent at 10:47 a.m.
“Courts over turned DOMA!! We now are seen like all married couples. I am so blessed you are my husband and I love you so much!!”
“I love you too!” he typed back.
That four-sentence exchange was just one of many private celebrations that occurred between couples across the nation after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key element of the Defense of Marriage Act. The landmark move means the federal government will recognize gay and lesbian couples in legal same-sex marriages, entitling them to benefits that before had been out of reach.
For the Scheers, a family of six in Maryland, it means a level of financial and personal peace of mind they hadn’t before known. It means that not only can they file joint tax returns for the first time, but they also can also give the four children they adopted out of the foster care system a stronger sense of security.
“For us, it was finally for once that the federal government didn’t look at us as roommates with four kids,” said Rob Scheer, who took his husband’s last name. “They looked at us as a family.”
The two men met nine years ago and married as soon as the District allowed it. They were among the first 20 couples to get their license, and they held the ceremony in their brownstone in the Eckington area, surrounded by children who within a matter of months entered their home and transformed it.
Siblings Amaya and Makai came first. She was 4 and he was 2, and they had rotated through three foster homes before being paired with the couple. At the time, Amaya hadn’t been potty trained, and Makai, who is autistic and had physical ailments, couldn’t talk and couldn’t walk without using his hands to lift one leg.
“I will never forget: They came with basically a trash bag,” Rob said. “We looked in the bag, and it broke our hearts. There were no toys whatsoever. There were clothes that you could tell had been used and handed down.”
That was January 2009. Two months later, the couple got a call from the National Center for Children and Families saying a pair of brothers also needed a home. The couple said they had never planned to have four children — and still get wide-eyed when they think about the responsibility and grocery bills it entails — but they said that as soon as they met 22-month-old Greyson and 4-month-old Tristan, they knew they what they had to do. By September of that year, the couple filed to adopt all four children.
At the couple’s wedding on March 28, 2010, when they said their vows, Reece held Tristan in his arms, and Makai, who was scared of the minister, clung to Rob’s leg. They would have a celebration later with friends and relatives, but at the ceremony, they wanted only their children there.
“We wanted our children to understand not only were we making a commitment to each other, we were making a commitment to them,” Rob, 46, said.
“We were making a commitment as a family,” Reece, 44, added.
Even so, they recognized the legal limitations of that union, especially as they planned to move to Maryland to give the children more space and find a school that could better help Makai. Maryland did not move to legalize same-sex marriage until last year.
“We knew that even though we had this piece of paper from the District of Columbia, it didn’t mean anything to anyone,” Rob said. “There was no benefit in the state for us to be married. The benefit came when DOMA was overturned. That’s when it benefited us as a family.”
Until now, they have had to file separate tax returns, deciding each time who would claim the children and the house. Their accountant told them that the split filing cost them $10,000 one year and $8,500 another year. “I can’t wait to file our tax returns and list all four of our children,” Rob said. “I’m probably going to frame that tax return.”
The couple is also in a unique position because Reece , who has a master’s degree in interior design, decided not to work so he could take care of the children, leaving the family dependent on Rob’s salary as vice president of an appraisal company.
The vulnerability of that situation hit Reece last fall, he recalled Friday morning as he sat on the arm of a sofa at the family’s five-bedroom house, which sits on a 21 / 2-acre lot in Darnestown.
“I told my sister, ‘I don’t know what I would do if something were to happen to him,’ ” he said, crying. “I knew I was responsible for four others.”
Rob wrapped an arm around him and squeezed.
“You don’t have to worry about that anymore,” he said.
Now, Reece would be entitled to Rob’s Social Security benefits, and he wouldn’t have to pay an estate tax on their property.
The couple said they are still trying to understand all the ways they will be affected by the Supreme Court’s decision. But the night of the ruling, they gathered around their dining room table for dinner, as they do every night, and tried to explain what happened in a way the children — now ages 9, 6, 6, and 4 — would understand.
“We talked about security, about them always being taken care of and the fact that it completes us as a family,” Rob said.
Shannon Catanzaro, the division manager for foster care and adoption services for the National Center for Children and Families, described the couple as “model adoptive parents.” Of the 1,300 children in foster care in the District, her agency serves 137, and she said it is particularly difficult finding homes for siblings.
On Friday morning at the family’s home, the boys were a blur of energy, practicing flips off the bed and making up magic tricks. At one point, they emerged from a pile of costumes dressed as Superman, Spider-Man and Batman. Amaya, who had an earache, watched cartoons from the couch. She had lived with the couple for just weeks before she started calling Rob “Daddy” and Reece “Dada.”
“If I just called them ‘Dad,’ they’d say, ‘Which one are you calling?’ ” she explained. She said that as a family, they have a lot of fun together, especially swimming in their backyard pool, and that she loves both men very much.
“They’re special to me because they’re the best parents I’ve ever had.”