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Two families, opposite views of Kentucky’s gay marriage legal fight

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court will hear cases from four states that currently have gay marriage bans: Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee and Kentucky. The NewsHour talked to two different Kentucky families whose personal stories launched the court case.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    Tomorrow morning, the Supreme Court will return to the debate over whether states should be able to outlaw same-sex marriage. The justices will hear cases from four states that currently have gay marriage bans: Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee.

    Tonight, we hear from Kentucky families whose personal stories are at the center of the legal battle at the high court tomorrow.

  • PAUL CAMPION:

    Randy and I met on August 17 of 1991.

  • RANDY JOHNSON:

    It was just amazing, the connection that we had immediately. And one of the conversations that we had before the night was even over was how we both longed to be parents. And we feared that by admitting that we were homosexual meant forfeiting the opportunity to have children and to really be a family.

  • MARTIN COTHRAN:

    I work with the Family Foundation of Kentucky.

    Tim, how are you? What have you been doing today?

  • MAN:

    Slaving away.

  • MARTIN COTHRAN:

    My involvement in this issue has been not only as a concerned citizen and a father of four and a husband, but as — professionally, as someone who's involved in public policy questions in Kentucky.

    So, I was the one actually who took the little yellow slip of paper into the state senator's office, who then filed the legislation which was approved by the state legislature.

  • PAUL CAMPION:

    In early 1994, we decided to start really trying to create a family. We started at the state to see if we could adopt through the state, and we were told, that's not going to happen.

  • RANDY JOHNSON:

    My name is Randy Johnson. I am partner to Paul Campion for almost 24 years. And we have four children together and have built a wonderful family.

  • MARTIN COTHRAN:

    My name is Martin Cothran. My wife and I were high school sweethearts. We graduated from college, both got jobs, got married. We were still in Southern California, and then we ended up moving to Kentucky.

    The culture's different out here. It's slower, more traditional. We had four children here, all born here in Kentucky, and you couldn't drag us out of here.

  • PAUL CAMPION:

    But we did find one agency, Adoptions of Kentucky, that said, sure, we just care that you're going to be loving parents, so that's the only criteria that we need.

  • RANDY JOHNSON:

    And that was a beautiful part of what we were looking for. We were looking for being judged as our capabilities of being parents, not on the fact that we were a gay couple.

  • MARTIN COTHRAN:

    We had already passed a statutory law in 1998 that was called the Defense of Marriage Act. But there was a feeling that that wasn't going to be enough, that there would be court challenges later on, and that the best thing to do to make sure the policy lasted was to actually put it into the Constitution.

    So, the measure was put on the ballot in 2004, and it passed with 74 percent of Kentuckians voting in favor.

  • PAUL CAMPION:

    Tevin and Tyler were born in February of '95.

    Fast-forward eight years to when Mackenzie was born in 2003.

  • RANDY JOHNSON:

    And then four years after we adopted Mackenzie, we had a situation where Paul is a school counselor and one of his students was a 7-year-old biracial child who was in foster care. So this little first-grader came and asked Paul to adopt him.

  • MAN:

    Traditional marriage laws were because of the biological differences.

  • MARTIN COTHRAN:

    Because this case is going now to the Supreme Court, we're filing an amicus brief in the case to present the justices with our arguments.

    We hope that when the Supreme Court looks at this, that they will realize that they're not there to make new law. They're there to interpret the law that has been put there through the regular democratic process, and that they will see a lot of these cases for what they are, which is inventing something that is not there.

  • RANDY JOHNSON:

    I'm still not a legal parent to Tevin and Tyler, because the laws have not changed in Kentucky. Only one person of the same gender can adopt the children. So, I am the legal parent to Mackenzie, and Paul's the legal parent to the three boys.

  • MARTIN COTHRAN:

    I think the marriage issue is a classic example one of these areas where we have a tradition we want to tear down.

    For anyone to say that the founding fathers intended that there be same-sex marriage and this was somehow there in the Constitution for over 200 years and no one noticed it until it happened to become politically fashionable now is a little bit of a stretch.

  • PAUL CAMPION:

    That's one of the reasons why marriage equality is so important to us, so that all four kids can be legally both of ours.

    We had a lot of anxiety along the way, especially Randy in the early years, because, if I would have passed away, Randy has no legal rights to them at all.

  • MARTIN COTHRAN:

    The argument that we need to change the definition of marriage because of health insurance reasons or certain complications with adoption, the thing about that is, we don't need to change the definition of marriage to do that. You can pass legislation to take care of those problems. You don't have to change the definition of marriage.

  • RANDY JOHNSON:

    And there are other laws that are quite discriminatory. One of our children just turned 16 recently and was very excited about getting his driver's permit. I had taken DeSean actually to the DMV to get his driver's permit and take his written test.

    However, once again, since my name is not on his birth certificate, nor on the adoption paperwork, they refused to allow me to accompany DeSean to take his driver's permit.

  • MARTIN COTHRAN:

    Bless us, oh, lord, and these thy gifts which we are about to receive.

    By changing the definition of marriage and expanding it so broadly that every model of marriage is equal, it's a message we send to the next generation that this relationship is every bit as good as this relationship. Well, a lot of people don't believe that.

  • MAN:

    Bless us, oh, lord, and these thy gifts which we are about to receive.

  • RANDY JOHNSON:

    One of the reasons that we wanted to join this lawsuit against the state of Kentucky to recognize us as a married couple was because we believe that many people in Kentucky feel threatened by families like ours, as if we are attempting to compromise the integrity of marriage, when, if they really knew us, they would recognize that we're not threatening at all.

    In fact, we just want the same things that they do. We don't want to dictate anyone's religious beliefs. We just want them to recognize that civil law is very important to families like ours.

  • MARTIN COTHRAN:

    The argument that the gay rights issue is a civil rights issues is basically saying that gays are in the same position as blacks.

    Now, that's been the analogy that's been drawn. Well, I'm sorry. They were not shipped over here in slave ships. They didn't have to drink at different drinking fountains. They were not persecuted in the way blacks have been persecuted. Gays are not politically powerless.

    They should be treated fairly. There's no question about that. But to be treated fairly doesn't require you to change the definition of marriage.

  • PAUL CAMPION:

    Equal protection under the law shouldn't be left up to a referendum or vote by the residents. Marriage should be allowed for gays and lesbians, as it is for heterosexual couples. And we think that the only way that this can happen is through the courts.

    If the Supreme Court rules in favor of marriage equality throughout the land, probably the first thing — cry.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • RANDY JOHNSON:

    It means an awful lot to us. Having spent 23 years together, and not being able to offer our kids the assurance that their parents are married to each other and are just as important as any other family — will be a huge event.

  • MARTIN COTHRAN:

    If we go down this road, and the court strikes down state laws on marriage, I think that this is going to continue to erode the legitimacy of the judiciary. People will increasingly see this as a place that is now a very political part of our government, when it's not supposed to be. And I think that would be very unfortunate.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And tune in to tomorrow night's NewsHour for full analysis of the arguments before the Supreme Court.

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