Little Liam Buntemeyer can't help but be a momma's boy. At 7 months old, Liam has no idea what his mothers, Jess and Jenny, have been through. His birth certificate, which means so much to them, is nothing to Liam but a piece of paper to try to snatch from their hands and stick in his mouth. Teething, after all, makes a baby single-minded.
And that's fine with the Buntemeyers.
The way they see it, their battle ended Tuesday when Liam's birth certificate, bearing both of their names, finally showed up in the mailbox of their Davenport home.
"Now we're like any other family," Jess Buntemeyer said.
"I can now share my benefits," Jenny Buntemeyer added. "Until now, I couldn't claim them as dependents, even though I've been their provider."
Between the overthrow of the Defense of Marriage Act and victories in court over same-sex rights in Iowa, Jenny Buntemeyer now can provide for her family the way any other married breadwinner does it: legally.
"I feel bad for people in other states," she said. "I'm a federal employee (with the U.S. Marshals Service), and I'm the provider for my family, whether people like it or not."
It has been clear to the Buntemeyers for almost two years that some people, including those in decision-making positions in the state, do not accept their status as a family. It became painfully clear during their darkest days, which followed the death of their infant son, Brayden. In October 2011, at 30 weeks, their first child died in utero. His grieving parents sent his death certificate to the Iowa Department of Public Health and were dealt a second blow weeks later when the agency returned Brayden's death certificate with Jenny's name whited out.
A lawsuit ensued, and the Buntemeyers won their case, which argued the Iowa Department of Public Health violated the state constitution's equal-protection clause. In Iowa, parentage is a spousal presumption, not a medical one. In other words, as a legally married couple, the Buntemeyers should have been presumed to be Brayden's parents all along.
In February, they received an amended copy of the death certificate, bearing both of their names.
Meanwhile, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled in another lesbian couple's favor, saying they were illegally deprived of the right to have both of their names on their child's birth certificate.
Though Liam was born in January, his parents, who were married in 2010, waited to add Jenny's name to his birth certificate until the supreme court's ruling in May. They did not wish to go through the state's rejection again. But it wasn't merely a matter of placing Jenny's name on the birth certificate and sending it off to Des Moines, which is the protocol for non-gay couples.
"We had to send the original birth certificate back, along with a sworn affidavit from both of us and a certified copy of our marriage license," Jess explained. "Things are still different for us, but at least we have both certificates."
The Buntemeyers are no different from any other Iowa couple that has lost a child. Though enamored of Liam, they miss Brayden every day.
"At first, it hurt," Jenny said of becoming a mom. "With every milestone, we felt like we were missing out on Brayden."
Jess said she thinks Liam is aware of his big brother's absence and, at times, presence.
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"I sometimes feel like he's making up for two little boys," she said. "He'll be following something with his eyes that I can't see and start laughing out of nowhere, and I'll say, 'Hi, Brayden!'"
Having met in the U.S. Army during deployments to Iraq, the women are not unfamiliar with rules requiring them to hide their relationship. As the rules change, they become more liberated in ways they didn't know were important — until Liam.
"It's still a little surreal," Jenny said of their new state-recognized status as parents.
"It's weird, being able to be married like regular people," added Jess.
But their life is regular, with Jess staying home with Liam, and Jenny going to work at the federal courthouse in Davenport. Every Sunday is family day at Jenny's parents' house, and their best friends couldn't be more supportive.
Sitting on the backyard deck of their home, the Buntemeyers laughed at the curls that appeared suddenly in Liam's hair — the product of August heat.
"I absolutely love this kid," Jenny announced, smiling at her son. "We're going to start trying again in the spring."
Added Jess: "We just want to reiterate how relieved and happy we are that both of our boys now have proper documents with both of their mothers."