SUMMIT COUNTY Nineteen-month-old Elijah Soto-Buswold peeks over the couch as his mother folds his tiny clothes."Puff, the Magic Dragon" plays in the background as his mother, Alex Soto, finishes the laundry before cooking for dinner guests. Her partner, Buzzy Buswold, is at work. On Buswold's days off, she takes care of Elijah, reading his favorite book, "Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed," or taking him sledding.Both mothers financially support Elijah, but if Buswold were to die, Soto wouldn't receive the same financial benefits a married, heterosexual couple would upon death of a spouse because the law does not recognize same-sex unions.On a Monday afternoon, Elijah rolls Tonka trunks along his plastic kiddy table and moves colorful balls from the green living room carpet to the yellow bean bag. He counts, "one, two, one, two," concluding two, rather than four, balls rest on the bean bag. Soto claps her hands and exclaims "Yea!" to encourage his counting skills.Soto and Buswold paid thousands of dollars to place Buswold's name on Elijah's birth certificate under the Uniform Parentage Act. Still, Buswold can't claim Elijah on her tax return, even though she helps financially support him.Soto pays extra state and federal taxes on health insurance benefits she obtains for Buswold from her employer. If the law recognized their union, as it does heterosexual couples, she wouldn't have to pay taxes on the portion her employer contributes to her family plan. But the government views the benefit as taxable income for nonmarried couples.Those are just a couple of the marital rights heterosexual couples take advantage of and homosexual couples want.
When Soto and Buswold met nine years ago, neither wanted children. But as their relationship grew and they committed to spending a lifetime together, Soto's yearning to have a child returned - she was raised Catholic and had wanted a dozen children when she was young, she said. In her mid-20s, she realized many people disapprove of same-sex couples raising children. Now, at age 41, she said the majority of the Summit County community accepts who she is: a lesbian woman who is deeply in love and raising a family. Still, her nation doesn't validate her partnership.It took Soto seven attempts at artificial insemination to have Elijah. Three times the process failed to create an embryo. The fourth time, Soto miscarried. Finally, she had Elijah, she said.Buswold supported her throughout the artificial insemination process. The couple choose two sperm donors of Soto's ethnic background and one of Buswold's ethnicity, then picked the one with the best health history. Elijah calls Soto "mommy" and Buswold "mama." The family says its prayers before meals and attends St. John the Baptist Episcopal Church in Breckenridge. Soto said they spoil Elijah because they love him so much.She believes every little boy needs to be around male energy, so she makes sure he regularly visits Keith Bond, a Summit Cove resident who started Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays and acts as a grandpa. When Soto says "papa" - Bond's nickname - Elijah's face lights up and he repeats, "papa," she said. Elijah already knows two other mountain families that have two moms, but she worries that when her son starts kindergarten kids might judge him because of his family structure, she said. Elijah's parents said they would get legally married like other kids' parents if they could, but most states don't allow same-sex unions.
Legally unboundKatie Browner and her partner hope to have a commitment ceremony at Lord of the Mountains Lutheran Church. They have been together for a year and have decided they want to affirm their love within a community, she said. But what they really want is a legal marriage. "It's great that we get support from religion, but it's not equal until we get support from the federal government," Browner said.Currently, 3.1 million same-sex couples in committed relationships pay higher taxes and are denied 1,110 federal benefits and protections of marriage, according to the Human Rights Campaign, a national gay rights organization. Those benefits include social security, hospital visitation, exemption from estate and inherited 401(K) taxes, family leave and the ability to receive health coverage for partners without paying tax on the value of the insurance."I pay my taxes just like the couple next door to me. I abide by the same traffic laws, but in other areas I am denied liberties and basically told by society that I am a second-class citizen," said Frank Accosta, a gay man who lives in Summit County. "If I am going to behave by your laws, give me the same rights."Some couples, like Soto and Buswold, pay attorney fees to secure as many rights as they can, but legally families still can contest a couple's wishes. For example, the couple has pooled their finances for nine years. If Buswold were to die, her family could contest her will, which leaves her inheritance to Soto. Though the couple's family accepts their partnership and wouldn't fight their wishes, some same-sex couples aren't as lucky.In other situations, attorneys can't protect same-sex couples' rights. If Buswold dies, Soto is not entitled to her benefits as a legal spouse would be. Financially, Soto would be a truly single parent.To make matters worse for same-sex couples, Colorado has piloted a national political battle to ban gay marriages. Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, a Republican from Colorado's eastern plains, and Sen. Wayne Allard, also a Republican, have led the charge on an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
And one of the nation's most outspoken and influential anti-gay marriage advocacy groups - Focus on the Family - is stationed in Colorado Springs."I've lived in Summit County for 17 years, and I'm disappointed that our state isn't more compassionate," Browner said. The federal government and 38 states have passed laws defining marriage as the "union between a man and a woman." Other states offer some benefits of marriage to same-sex couples.A federal amendment under consideration called the Federal Marriage Amendment would be the only one in history to single out one class of Americans and forbid them from receiving equal rights and protections granted to other citizens, according to the Human Rights Campaign."I don't think that civil rights should be up for vote in any state," Browner said. "Civil rights are part of our national constitution."Some sources in this story chose not to use their real names.Vail, Colorado