The Miami Herald
Fri, Mar. 04, 2005

Taking a look at gay Hispanics

A statewide study of Hispanic same-sex couples shows similarities to other Latino households, according to a national gay rights advocacy group. The study will be used in the fight to end bans on same-sex adoption and marriage in Florida.

BY LISA ARTHUR

When Stephanie Woolley-Larrea gave birth to triplets 2 ½ years ago, she had more than just the normal new-mom worries to cope with. She wanted her partner of nine years, Maria Woolley-Larrea, to adopt the children and become their other mom -- legally.

The couple couldn't do that in Florida, which doesn't allow gays to adopt. So they went to Massachusetts for six months, maintained their home in Miami-Dade, and eventually, Maria Woolley-Larrea was able to adopt the children.

''I gave birth to these children and they were automatically mine,'' Stephanie Woolley-Larrea said Thursday during a National Gay and Lesbian Task Force news conference on same-sex Hispanic couples in Florida.

''They weren't by law Maria's children even though they are our children,'' said Stephanie, 32, a teacher. ``Half of their birth certificate is blank. It's always going to be blank even though she adopted them.''

Leaders from the gay and lesbian task force say the Woolley-Larreas are the human faces behind numbers in a study the organization released Thursday focusing on same-sex Hispanic couples in Florida.

The sponsors of the study hope to use it as a tool in their fight to overturn Florida law prohibiting adoptions by gays and the push to make gay marriage unconstitutional.

The study ''legitimizes and puts a face on the families -- the partners and the kids'' who are affected by these laws, said Herb Sosa, director of Unity Coalition of Florida.

The task force used data from the 2000 U.S. Census in its analysis.

''The U.S. Census is the most reliable and accepted data there is, and that's where we get the information to give us a clearer picture of same-sex couples in Florida,'' said Roberta Sklar, press secretary for the task force.

The study, which will be expanded nationwide in the coming months, was done by the task force's policy institute with the Los Angeles-based statistical consulting firm Lopez and Cheung. The task force financed the research, which relied on the census.

Head of household respondents could indicate on the census that they lived with an unmarried life partner. Roommates and blood relatives are not included.

Sklar said the task force believes the numbers reported in the census are conservative.

''People are reluctant to sign a government document that states their sexual orientation,'' she said.

Among the findings of the task force's analysis of census data:

Hispanic/Latino same-sex couple households in Florida are similar to other Hispanic/Latino households.

Hispanic same-sex couples are nearly as likely at their married opposite sex counterparts to own their own homes (60 percent vs. 65 percent); to report living in the same residence five years earlier (38 percent vs. 46 percent); and report raising non-biological children at nearly the same rate (3 percent vs. 4 percent.)

Despite the similarities, the path to creating a family and household is often more difficult for same-sex couples, Sosa said.

''We're not asking for any special favors,'' Sosa said. ``We just want to be treated the same as other families.''

The Woolley-Larreas, Sosa said, are an example of real people hurt by the laws.

''Their love, their family, their relationship is not recognized in the state of Florida,'' he said.

Maria Woolley-Larrea, 44, and an employee at the Miami-Dade County court administration office, said the couple never hesitated about the decision to have children.

''We don't think we're different,'' she said. ''What is different is that we had to spend tens of thousands of dollars to be recognized as a family,'' she said. Her adoption of triplets Brennan, Amelia and Tobie is recognized nationwide.

The couple's marriage, performed last year in Massachusetts, is not.

Another legal obstacle that specifically hurts Hispanic couples is the inability to sponsor their partners for immigration status, said Heddy Peña, executive director of SAVE Dade, a gay rights advocacy group.

''Opposite-sex couples have that right, to bring their partner here,'' she said. ``Same-sex couples should have the same right.''

She hoped the study would have a positive impact in the Latin community, where it can sometimes be difficult for gay people to tell their parents about their sexual orientation because of cultural taboos.

''I hope the study will help these Hispanics who are afraid to tell their families they are gay,'' she said. ``I hope the study shows them they are not alone.''