A father and son who had been living together for 15 years recently married each other. That's because Norman MacArthur and Bill Novak, both in their 70s, are not biologically related: One partner adopted the other as a means of accessing some legal rights -- but when the opportunity arose to marry instead, they sought to vacate their adoption relationship so they could become husbands.
The elderly couple have been together since their 20s. They were registered as domestic partners in New York City in 1994. However, when they moved to Erwinna, Pennsylvania in 2000, they were told domestic partnerships were not legally recognized by that state.
MacArthur explained to Yahoo Parenting that the only option that afforded any rights was adoption. When a lawyer suggested the option to them, they thought it was unusual. They are, after all, a gay couple. Adoption meant they would be father and son in the eyes of the law.
However, the option wasn’t as uncommon as they first thought. Other same-sex couples had also done it just so they wouldn’t be legally strangers. If anything should happen to either of them, the hospital would allow the other to visit. They would be informed of the other’s condition. Without the adoption option, they would not have any rights as a couple.
And so they went ahead with the adoption process. MacArthur, 74, legally became the son of Novak, 76, in 2000. In 2014, a judge ruled that the state’s law against gay marriage was unconstitutional. This prompted the couple to submit a petition to vacate their adoption. Their original lawyer told them the court would dissolve the adoption only if another person adopted MacArthur, but another lawyer, Terry Clemons, suggested that the courts might look favorably on their case if they made it clear the reason for the adoption.
On May 14, Judge Gary B. Gilman of the Bucks County Orphans Court allowed Novak and MacArthur’s adoption decree to be vacated. The couple’s case was the first time a same-sex couple in Pennsylvania petitioned to have their adoption vacated so they could marry. Clemons believes the case paves the way for other gay couples who may be in the same position as MacArthur and Novak.
“The courtroom burst into applause. I burst into tears,” MacArthur told the Associated Press. About 30 of their friends were in the courtroom to give their support. “They were certainly happy tears.”
Novak and MacArthur went from father and son to a married couple 10 days later. They did not want to wait any longer to become husbands since the gap between their adoption status and their marriage did not offer any legal protection. They celebrated their wedding with a small private ceremony conducted by an old friend, an Episcopalian priest.