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Adopted by gays, child welcomed into his faith

by Jay Hamburger OF THE RECORD STAFF

Cradled in the arms of one of his adopted fathers, Erik Clayton Maravi, not yet four months old, softly cried as the baptismal water dripped down his body on Sunday, unaware of the significance of the sacrament.

The worshippers at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in the Snyderville Basin, about 150, a third more than a normal Sunday service, were fixated on the boy, a Latino child whose brief life has had him a member of two families, spread from the South to the West.

"He is already full of the presence of God," the Rev. Charles Robinson, who leads the congregation, told the people gathered shoulder to shoulder in a circle to watch Erik’s baptism.

Erik, the reverend prayed, will not be subjected to racism, will not be labeled as "inherently inferior" and will not be judged only because he will be brought up by Manuel Maravi and Ted Clayton, the gay partners who adopted the boy.

The two fathers, proud and loving their child on Sunday, dared to challenge Utah’s conservatism and, in doing so, the state’s predominant faith, which does not accept homosexuality.

They also, potentially, challenged Utah’s legislators, who, according to the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, the educational arm of an advocacy group for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders, have outlawed gays and lesbians from adopting children, one of only three statehouses to do so.

Gay rights, one of America’s fractious political issues, with conservatives decrying the movement as destructive to traditional values and gays and their supporters pressing states and the federal government for further protections, has largely been ignored by the Utah Legislature, dominated by conservative Republicans.

In 2004, voters in Utah, by a 2-1 margin, adopted an amendment to the state Constitution defining marriage as strictly between a man and a woman and denying the recognition of other domestic unions, such as the one between Maravi and Clayton. Summit County voters that year, seen as more liberal than much of the rest of the state, however, rejected the amendment, with 61.4 percent voting ‘Nay,’ siding with Grand County as the only two counties to vote the ballot measure down.

Gary Gates, a researcher at the University of California at Los Angeles School of Law, found that the 600,000 gay couples estimated to be living in America are raising 250,000 children. Of those, 6 percent were adopted, according to his research.

Gates found that, in Utah, 33.1 percent of same-sex couples are raising kids, ranking it at No. 9 in the country.

The politics of gay rights, though, were not debated on Sunday. There were not demonstrators for either side, nor were the faithful made to listen to stump speeches demanding that gays be given equal rights.

"Erik, you are surrounded by love. Hold it all in your heart. You are an amazing young man," a worshipper wrote in a book of congratulations to the boy.

Maravi and Clayton started dating at the end of 1999 and by the middle of the next year they were engaged. On Oct. 23, 2000, in Ferrisburgh, Vt., they joined in a civil union, choosing a state that is recognized as being friendly to gays for the ceremony. They moved to Park City, where they live in Bear Hollow, in mid-2004.

Clayton, who is 39 years old, is a banker with Zions Bank and Maravi, 41, a musician and the musical director of St. Luke’s, is an Argentine who immigrated to the U.S. in 1993. He plans to become an American citizen in 2008.

Erik was born on May 31 in North Carolina. His mother, Maravi says, put the boy up for adoption, worrying that she broke up with the father and she has a 4-year-old daughter with another man already. She returned to the father of the older child, who did not want to raise Erik, Maravi says.

On June 1, Maravi and Clayton received a call that the boy, with dark curly hair and a dark complexion, was available for adoption. The two flew to North Carolina the next day.

"I hope he grows up to do whatever he wants, to be happy, to know he’s loved," Clayton says.

Robinson, the reverend, in his remarks, though, warned that Erik’s youth, because of his nontraditional family, will be more trying than the childhood of other kids. He has yet to experience the teasing and taunting of his classmates for having two dads, Robinson said.

"Because he’s different, because his family looks different, there are kids who will feel a need to attack him," Robinson said, hoping that the boy does not experience homophobia directed at his family.

Clayton expects the same, but hopes that the ribbing Erik may receive in school makes his will stronger.

"It’s up to us to teach him and show an example of how to deal with that, ideally in as loving a way as possible, not being combative," Clayton says.

Robinson estimates that there are about six gays or lesbians who worship at St. Luke’s, a congregation of about 300. He says he encouraged Maravi and Clayton to adopt a child. The couple hopes to adopt another soon, Maravi says.

Erik will go to school, Maravi hopes he learns to speak English and Spanish and he wants Erik to "grow up a very strong boy."

"I hope he turns into a healthy, loving person," Maravi says. "That he loves everyone for who they are, that he follows his dreams."


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