One after another, their guests began asking: Are you going to have kids? When are you going to have kids?
Tom Lotito and Matt Hay, both 26, could not help but feel moved. They never imagined as teenagers that they would ever get married, much less that friends and family members would pester them about having children.
“It’s another way that I feel like what we have is valid in the eyes of other people,” said Mr. Hay, who married Mr. Lotito in June before 133 guests.
As lawmakers and courts expand the legal definition of the American family, same-sex couples are beginning to feel the same what-about-children pressure that heterosexual twosomes have long felt.
For some couples, it is another welcome sign of their increasing inclusion in the American mainstream. But for others, who hear the persistent questions at the office, dinner parties and family get-togethers, the matter can be far more complicated.
Many gay men had resigned themselves to the idea that they would never be accepted by society as loving parents and assumed they would never have children. They grieved that loss and moved on, even as other gay men and lesbians fully embraced childless lives. So the questions can unearth bittersweet feelings and cause deep divisions within a couple over whether to have children at all, now that parenting among same-sex couples is becoming more common.
The process can be also daunting logistically and financially, as would-be parents wrestle with whether to adopt or use a surrogate. And once they have children, many same-sex couples still endure the inevitable criticism — spoken or unspoken — from those who remain uncomfortable with the notion of their being parents.
But support for same-sex parents is growing steadily among Americans. A Pew Research Center survey conducted in July and released last week found for the first time that a majority of people surveyed — 52 percent — said that gay men and lesbians should be allowed to adopt children, up from 46 percent in 2008 and 38 percent in 1999.
The shift in public opinion and the simple question — Are you having children? — is nothing short of a marvel to some gay men, perhaps even more so than to lesbians, for whom giving birth has always been an option.
Greg Moore, 62, a retired corporate manager in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., shakes his head with wonder when he sees young male couples chattering about their toddlers. That possibility seemed hopelessly out of reach when he and his 74-year-old husband, who have been together for 44 years and married in 2008, dreamed of having children. “Gay people didn’t have kids,” he said wistfully. “Straight people had kids.”
Popular culture is helping rewrite that script. Gay men who have children, or are considering having children, are becoming increasingly visible on network television. In “Modern Family,” the nation’s most popular television show, the couple Mitchell and Cameron considered adopting a second child this past season. In “Scandal,” a new ABC series, a middle-aged White House staff member groused about his partner’s desire to adopt a baby from Ethiopia. And this fall, a new NBC sitcom called “The New Normal” will feature a gay couple and their surrogate.
The shift is also reflected in census data. Between 2000 and 2010, among same-sex couples raising children, the percentage of couples with adopted children increased to 20 percent from 9 percent, according to an analysis by Gary Gates, a demographer at the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles. (Most same-sex couples with adopted children are lesbians, but gay men make up a growing share, accounting for nearly a third of such couples in 2010, up from a fifth in 2000.)
“The definition of family is unquestionably evolving,” Dr. Gates said.
But he also noted that many Americans remain deeply opposed to gay parents raising children. Same-sex couples are explicitly prohibited from adopting in two states — Utah and Mississippi — and they face significant legal hurdles in about half of all other states, particularly because they cannot legally marry in those states. And some religious leaders have refused to provide adoption services to gay couples.
Roman Catholic bishops in Washington, D.C., Illinois and Massachusetts have shuttered adoption services rather than comply with requirements that they consider same-sex couples as adoptive parents.
As a result, even in Democratic strongholds like Washington, some gay men keep their dreams of having children mostly to themselves.
But for Jeff Krehely, 35, who has been married for six years, there is no escaping the question in his social circles. His friends ask. His colleagues ask. His parents are so eager that they have taken to sending birthday cards to his two cats (they call them the “grandkitties”).
On the Fourth of July, when Mr. Krehely and his husband sipped iced coffee with several other gay couples, he knew it was only a matter of time before the subject came up. Three of the five couples said they were seriously considering adopting.
“Everyone’s asking: What’s your timetable? What’s your plan?” said Mr. Krehely, a policy analyst, who is still weighing whether to take the plunge.
But some gay men who have no plans to have children view the shift as something of a mixed blessing. On one hand, they welcome the sense of inclusion that comes with always being asked about children. On the other hand, they are always being asked about children.
Rudolph Chandler, 57, and George Walker, 43, who married in 2010, thought long and hard before they decided against having children. They say they greatly admire their friends who are parents. But these days, they are asked so often about their child-rearing plans that they roll their eyes oh-so-subtly when it comes up. “It’s irritating, tiring,” said Mr. Chandler, a health economist.
John Corvino, 43, chairman of the philosophy department at Wayne State University in Detroit, has even come up with a standard response that he leavens with a dash of humor when asked if he wants children: “To shovel the snow and mow the lawn, sure,” he says. “Beyond that, no.”
As for Mr. Lotito and Mr. Hay, the couple who married in June, in North Bethesda, Md., they said they were taken aback by the inquiries about children on their big night. “I was kind of like, ‘The wedding’s still going on, guys,’ ” Mr. Lotito said. “It’s flattering, but that’s really not on my radar.”
Mr. Lotito, who handles contracts for a federal agency, said he has never really wanted children. Mr. Hay is an elementary school music teacher. “He has like 800 children a week,” Mr. Lotito said. “It’s nice not to have them when he comes home.”
That has not deterred friends and relatives from continuing to ask. Mr. Lotito’s mother, Lisa Sanno, who dreams of grandchildren and asked about them (yet again) at the wedding, has been thinking about all the options.
At the moment, she is enamored with the idea of a surrogate who might give her son and son-in-law each a biological child. “They’re young,” said Ms. Sanno, ever the optimist. “Maybe they’ll change their minds.”