When Ray Dumont and Rodney Mondor adopted their son, Ethan, from the Maine Department of Health and Human Services in 2004, the law allowed only one of them to have full custody.
So even though Ray and Rodney, both now 45 and living in Portland, cared for their young son and loved him equally, because they are gay, only Rodney could hold the full legal power of being a parent.
The adoption law at that time didn’t recognize the reality that some Maine families are led by two dads or two moms. It’s the same with current state law, which doesn’t grant couples the right to marry, even though many same-sex couples are already — and have been for a long time — fulfilling the same roles as heterosexual married people. Maine will vote at the polls this November whether to allow gay couples to marry.
Even though Ray became a guardian, and they carried power of attorney paperwork wherever they went, the couple still worried that something unfortunate could happen to Rodney that would affect their 4-year-old son.
Then, in Aug. 2007, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled that state law allows an unmarried couple to adopt. The justices said the objective of the law was to help children, as a joint adoption would ensure they had a continued relationship with a surviving parent in the case of a death.
Ray and Rodney completed the joint adoption process as soon as they could. “Once the law changed, to me that was a sign things were moving in the right direction. They’re actually starting to put the kid first,” Ray said. “If you make enough noise, eventually somebody’s going to hear you.”
To talk to Ray and Rodney is to understand on a personal level how laws surrounding gay rights affect not just same-sex couples but their families. Ray and Rodney want to marry in Maine so their relationship can be recognized for their son’s sake — so he can have that sense of affirmation.
“For us the strong motivating factor is to help him,” Rodney said. They want Ethan, now age 12, to one day be the best man at their wedding.
Their story also illuminates the positive direction of legal changes so far. Ray and Rodney have seen the adoption law altered to work in their favor. And even though Mainers voted in 2009 to overturn a law legalizing same-sex marriage, Ray said he knows change comes incrementally. The couple has seen opinion — within their family and the general public — turn in support.
“I actually feel it’s more a matter of when, not if,” Ray said.
They also hope that as more people get to know gay couples personally they will be less likely to oppose the idea of gay marriage. Ray grew up in Lewiston, and Rodney grew up traveling the country and world because his father served in the military. Both were raised Catholic.
The couple met in the lobby after a Portland Players theater show. Ray was filling in for an actor in the performance, and Rodney decided to see the show at the last minute. Neither of them was really supposed to be there, they said. They have been together for nearly 14 years.
Ray said he likes Rodney because he challenges him. Not long after they first met, in 2000, Rodney convinced him to participate in a bicycle ride from Boston to New York to raise money for AIDS research. It was terrible weather, but he said Rodney didn’t let him give up.
They joke with one another often. “Although I never admit it in public, he makes me laugh,” Rodney said of Ray. “He has a very interesting sense of humor and has this knack of having an incredible wealth of knowledge about nothing.”
“He’s right,” Ray said.
They also saw eye-to-eye on adopting a child. “When I came out to my family that I was gay, that was one thing I was very concerned about losing, was the ability to be a dad,” Rodney said.
They found Ethan almost by accident. The state regularly sent updates about children eligible for adoption, and one day Rodney was on his way to work when one sheet out of the pile fell on the floor. That’s when he saw Ethan, who was described as liking Scooby Doo and superheroes.
When Rodney and Ray talked to the caseworker, she suggested they meet April 1. Rodney said he thought it was a sign, as it was the anniversary of the death of his brother. The rest of the process fell into place. A few weeks later, on Rodney’s birthday, he signed the paperwork to make the adoption official.
“On my birthday, I became a dad,” he said. “It was the best day of my life, next to meeting Ray, of course.”
Ray volunteers in Ethan’s school, and Rodney coaches soccer. They both work at the University of Southern Maine. They have devoted themselves to being involved, attentive parents, and they want their son to know his parents are recognized by the state in the same way his friends’ heterosexual parents are.
Children of gay couples across Maine deserve to see their parents treated equally. It’s preposterous that it’s legal for a gay couple to adopt but not marry.
Ray and Rodney do plan to get married, one day. “The minute he asks me,” Ray said, to Rodney’s laughter.