At last: The right to marry

Cathy Pareto ’95, MBA ’06 and Karla Arguello ’03, MBA ’07 made headlines in January when they became the first gay couple to marry in Florida. The pair had been part of a lawsuit seeking to overturn the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. Entrepreneurs who in 2008 together launched Cathy Pareto and Associates, a financial planning business—Arguello eventually returned to the security of a previous corporate job following the initial startup phase—the two have seen the company grow and earn national attention. Together as a couple since 2000, they share with us what the right to marry means to them.

By Cathy Pareto

As little as three years ago, neither Karla nor I could have imagined serving on the frontlines in the fight for marriage equality in Florida. In fact, we would have laughed at the suggestion. Laughed because the possibility of same-sex marriage in our state seemed so distant. Laughed because, quite frankly, neither of us considers herself an activist.

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A growing family: Alumnae Karla Arguello, left, and Cathy Pareto adopted son Enzo in 2012, a blessed event that encouraged the women to formally join the fight for gay marriage in Florida. On the heels of their January wedding—the two made history as the first gay couple to legally wed in the state—they announced that Arguello is expecting twins in the fall.

So what changed? In October of 2012 we adopted a newborn. Our son’s arrival was a blessed, life-altering event for which we, like all first-time parents, were unprepared. We quickly found ourselves overjoyed and overwhelmed.

As career women with very demanding schedules, taking care of little Enzo proved challenging. With the help of a nanny, we got by. But after one too many late nights at the office, we realized that something had to change. So we made the same decision countless other parents have: one of us would quit working to stay home with the baby.

Karla arranged to leave her job and, in the process, the reality of our not meeting the standards of a traditional family started to set in. While Karla’s company—which recognized me as her domestic partner—for years had extended me coverage under her health insurance policy, we found that the COBRA we had elected to tide us over would cover only Karla and the baby. The insurance company explained it had no obligation to cover me because we were not recognized legally as a couple.

Following this unexpected and eye-opening experience, we faced another surprise. When Enzo had to undergo surgery for removal of a benign cyst, the staff at the hospital would share information only with Karla as they refused to believe he had two mothers. While Florida does make couples who are gay jump through a hoop that others need not—requiring that adoption by each prospective parent take place separately, at least three days apart—we had both completed the legal steps to make us joint guardians. Only after I returned to the hospital with Enzo’s birth certificate, on which both our names appeared, did the staff believe that I had a lawful right to knowledge of his care.

These two instances of unfair treatment came as shocks to me and Karla as we had never before experienced any significant discrimination or felt marginalized simply for who we are. We faced no problems, for example, purchasing two properties together or starting a business. Now, seemingly overnight, we had become second-class citizens.

This situation could not stand for long. For like parents everywhere who want only the best for their children, we too embraced our love for Enzo as our greatest source of motivation. And that love propelled us to a place we had never expected to go.

In the summer of 2013, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key section of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), we attended a celebration rally with our son. Representatives and members of various LGBT organizations working to ensure the rights of all were there that day, and we heard about an initiative to seek marriage equality in Florida. Karla and I later shared our story in a formal application—along with some 1,200 other couples—and soon after were contacted to be part of a lawsuit against the state of Florida. We were introduced in a press conference, along with five other plaintiff couples, and some dozen media interviews followed in the months ahead.

As the tide continued to turn nationwide, we saw the marriage ban in Miami-Dade County overturned on January 5 of this year when a judge lifted her own stay in our case, Pareto vs. Ruvin. That same afternoon, Karla and I became the first gay couple to marry in Florida! On the following day, the stay on marriages in Florida between same-gender couples was lifted in a separate federal case, and they too would finally have the freedom to marry.

The path toward marriage equality was an emotional one. We sacrificed our privacy, our peace and arguably, given the heated tensions surrounding the subject, our safety. In the end, as remarkable as the achievement was and still is, in truth we had accomplished something very ordinary. We had sought and won the same ordinary rights and legal protections that all families deserve. As a married couple, we gained the dignity that should have always been ours. And as parents, we lay much of the credit for that on our son.