Our sons, Lucas and Massi, look out for each other. When Lucas, age 4, climbs at the playground, Massi reaches out to me — “Mommy, up!” — so he can follow. When it’s time to leave, and 2-year-old Massi trails behind, staring at the flowers or the ants or the birds, his brother shouts, “Massi, come on!” Then he turns to me and my wife, Stefania, panicked: “Don’t leave him here! We have to bring him with us!” Though they’re young, they already have a deep connection.
Thankfully, they have no idea that, according to the United States government, Massi is an American, and Lucas is not. For years, the State Department has been fighting to deny birthright citizenship to children born abroad to same-sex couples.
Stefania and I have lived in London since 2008, and we had our first son, Lucas, in January 2015. A few weeks after his birth, we bundled him up and took him to the American Embassy. I didn’t foresee any issues with reporting his birth and receiving his American passport. I’m a lawyer, and when I filled out the forms, the process seemed completely straightforward. According to the law, if a married American, who has spent the required amount of time in the United States, has a child overseas, that child is American. Simple.
When our family was called up to the counter, the interrogation began: So, who carried your son? Stefania, who is Italian, said she did. Whose eggs were they? Again, Stefania’s. I thought to myself, Are you joking? This line of questioning seemed irrelevant, invasive and offensive. This went on: Who was the donor? Where is the donor from? Then we were told to wait. We sat for a long time. Around us, other families — straight couples with babies in tow — came and went. Finally, an official informed us that Lucas would not receive American citizenship, because I am not his genetic or gestational mother.
We were shocked. We struggled to process. Stefania and I are married. Both of our names are on Lucas’s birth certificate. We are his legal parents. We are the only ones with any legal connection to him. It doesn’t matter if we have a biological relationship: He is my child. Why should our connection be scrutinized?
When we had our second son, Massi, our family returned to the embassy. Massi’s application sailed through: This time, I had conceived and carried our son, and he was easily declared an American citizen. But again, Lucas was denied.
We’re reminded of the difference between our sons anytime we travel to the States, when we hand over our passports — two American, one Italian and one British. The officer often puzzles over this, and we then have to explain the whole absurd and painful story. Our mixed status also has deeper implications: Whenever our family spends time in the United States, we have to be careful to leave before Lucas overstays his 90-day visa. And if we ever want to move back to the United States, we are unsure whether he could easily obtain a green card.
The government has put us in a ridiculous position, and arbitrarily so. If Stefania had supplied the egg, and I had carried Lucas, he would be a citizen. If I had supplied the egg, and Stefania had carried Lucas, he would be a citizen. And, of course, if Stefania or I were a man, the embassy staff never would have asked where the sperm came from. They would have assumed that because we were straight and married, that our kids were ours.
We are not the only family in this situation. In Los Angeles, Andrew and Elad Dvash-Banks, an American-Israeli couple whose twins were conceived with donor eggs and sperm from each of them, have been told that only one of their twins is American. In both of our cases, the State Department has applied the law governing children born out of wedlock. This means they are not only denying my connection to my son, they are also denying the fact of our marriage. They are unjustly placing extra burdens on same-sex couples.
This isn’t the first time the law has discriminated against our family and unjustly restricted our choices. Over a decade ago, Stefania and I had to leave the United States to start our lives together. She wasn’t authorized to live or work in the country, and back then, even if we’d gotten married, the Defense of Marriage Act prevented my sponsoring her for a green card. We were in love and decided to move to England, where our relationship would be recognized. We felt lucky and excited to be able to be together. But I was also angry — angry at our situation; angry at my country for denying me equality; and angry to leave everyone else that I loved.
It took me a while to let go of that anger. Over the years, we built an amazing life together. We made friends and had our wonderful children. In that time, there has been some progress: Eventually, DOMA was thrown out, and the Supreme Court recognized same-sex marriage nationwide. Now, the fact that the U.S. government refuses to recognize my son as a citizen — to recognize our relationship as real and legitimate — brings back those feelings of fury and rejection.
Though the boys are too young to truly understand what’s going on, Lucas is old enough now that he has questions about everything. If — or when — he asks, I don’t know how I will explain any of this to him. I don’t know how to explain that the government treats him and his brother differently. That it treats his parents differently from other parents. And I don’t know how to explain that, despite America’s unfairness, being American is a fundamental part of my identity — and it should be part of his, too.
As told to Post editor Sophia Nguyen.