“We are gathered here today to celebrate love and harmony in every key and every color,” said the spangled officiate. If you were one of the 100 million viewers watching the televised 56th Grammy Awards on Jan. 26, you may recognize the phrase as spoken by Queen Latifah when she introduced the 33 couples who wed at the Staples Center following a rousing performance of “Same Love” by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, with the accompanying hook “She Keeps Me Warm” by Mary Lambert and Trombone Shorty.
Surrounded by a sea of celebrities, including a tear-stained Keith Urban, Hollywood residents Danny Alvarez, 34, and Marvin Suarez, 38, took their vows with their four-year-old son in their arms. As Latifah, who had been sworn in as a Deputy Commissioner by the State of California, proclaimed, “I now pronounce you married couples,” the little boy tenderly pulled his fathers’ heads together for their first wedded kiss.
Danny recalls the “magical moment” of holding his family close and then the subsequent instant when his life flashed before his eyes.
Two years ago, complications from a botched surgery abroad left Danny at death’s door with a collapsed lung, but the emergency room doctor had refused Marvin’s authorization for surgery because the couple was not legally married. Only at the last minute, said Danny, did the hospital accept their West Hollywood domestic partnership agreement as binding.
“I told myself, Danny, you almost didn’t make it! Two years ago, I was only five minutes away from dying and now I am celebrating my life, my union in marriage to my husband, and our life with our son,” Danny said. “I am so thankful to be alive. Words cannot explain how grateful I am to the Highest Power that gave me the opportunity and a second chance to live!”
Looking at these two healthy, vibrant young men today, who start each morning together at the gym, one can’t begin to imagine the story that brought three survivors -- the men and their little son -- together as a family.
Danny is a hair stylist who is studying full-time to become a physician’s assistant, Marvin is a stay-at-home home dad and together they run a small business from home. Their flexible schedules give them plenty of time to care for and play with little Marvin Daniel (aka MD), whom they adopted through the Los Angeles County Department of Family and Children’s Services (DCFS), and their seven-month-old foster daughter Raley.
Danny, who moved to Boston from Puerto Rico when he was 13 and has lived on his own since age 14, has always wanted to be a father and have a family. “It wasn’t until Dec. 2005 at 10:30 p.m. in West Hollywood when I met the person who would change my life — Marvin Suarez,” Danny said. It was then that he began to imagine how it would all be possible. “We have built a future together.”
The two men shared much in common. Marvin had been adopted by a church in his native Nicaragua and to the U.S. when he was 11 years old. While he enjoyed loving, supportive relationships with his adoptive family, birth family, and Sister Maria from the church, his life also straddled two worlds, two cultures, and two languages.
Perhaps their shared experience of separating early from their biological parents has uniquely prepared them for their roles caring for MD and Raley. Their son came to live with them at two days old, having been left at a Fire Station 31 in Paramount, CA, through California's Safe Surrender program, which encourages mothers to ensure their infants are safely cared for rather than abandoned. The couple adopted him eight months later.
“When we decided to have a child, adoption was the first thing that came into our minds,” explained Danny, rejecting the option of surrogacy. “Why spend so much money in creating life when together we can open our home to a kid who has been neglected? To us it was very clear that adoption was the way to go. Helping a kid that doesn’t have a place to call home was very important to us, and it’s a decision that we do not regret.”
In their first forays as prospective parents they attended a meeting of the Pop Luck Club, an organization for gay dads in West Hollywood. It was there that they met the club’s president, Rich Valenza, who would go on to found RaiseAChild.US. Rich referred them to DCFS, where the couple found a welcoming atmosphere and soon attended an orientation and classes.
“The process of fostering and adopting our son was very easy,” Danny recalled. “We never felt that social services were discriminating or anything of that nature. We had a wonderful social worker that guided us through the process and found us our son.”
Danny and Marvin are passionate advocates of adoption.
“I want people to know that adoption is the best option,” said Danny. “I understand a lot of people who are thinking of having kids want to see their DNA. But opening your home to a child out there waiting to be loved, who didn’t have a home, is more amazing.”
They are also strong advocates of fostering and while they adore Raley, they are happy she will probably be reunited with her birth parents in a few months.
“Raley’s mom asked me to adopt her if at the end the baby doesn’t go back,” said Danny. “Thankfully, she is doing good and the baby is going back with her in May. We are not heartbroken because we know we gave her one year of a steady home and lots of love. God knows what he is doing and if she is not our baby, there is another one waiting for us. Social Services trained us very well to deal with all kind of situations, and one of them is just in case the baby goes back, they are always ready to take care of our emotional state at anytime we need.”
Back in their Hollywood home, both Marvin and Danny enjoy the varied aspects of parenthood, from the routine of nightly baths in a tub filled with a bevy of the Ninja Turtles that MD loves, to playing with the kids at the beach, hiking in the local Hollywood Hills, or making snow angels in Big Bear.
“The best thing about being a father is that we don’t sleep anymore,” laughs Danny.
“Being a father is the most beautiful feeling ever. Every time my son calls me Dada or calls Marvin Papa, we just look at each other and smile. We are so happy to have our son in our life. This kid that didn't come from our blood or DNA; he is a kid that came from God. He is our son and he loves us just as much as we love him.”