CHEVERLY, Md. — On a warm Maryland evening, Jennifer and Amy Stapleton ruffle through a small box that means a great deal.
It's the box of mementos from their wedding in 2004 in San Francisco, when the city became the first in the nation to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
The Stapletons didn't live in San Francisco. But they went there not just for themselves, but for their future family.
"We knew we wanted to have kids," Amy Stapleton said. "And we had no protective rights for our kids as a couple. So our idea was to just build a case for our legitimacy. The ritual wasn't just for us. It was for our family. That's what I felt like we created that day: a commitment to the kids that we now have."
Initially, when Jennifer and Amy decided they wanted children, they saw an unclear road ahead. "We started calling social service agencies," Jennifer Stapleton recalled, "saying, 'Hey, we're two women. We want to adopt children.' And we were told it was illegal."
By the time they welcomed their first child, Samuel, Amy was able to legally adopt him. When their daughter Ruby was born four years later, they say, "it was different because the Supreme Court had passed marriage equality at that point for gay and lesbian people," Jennifer said. "Amy actually got to go on Ruby's birth certificate the day she was born."
These fights are in the past, but the Stapletons recall them with clarity - and never forget them when they make major life decisions.
"I don't take for a minute for granted," Amy said, "the struggle that so many people have had to be who they are, to live authentically, to love who they love, to live in a safe place."
Today the Stapletons live in Maryland, but they plan to move shortly to Colorado. And they did massive amounts of research in making that decision.
"The record is spottier there," Jennifer said. "So we did a lot of due diligence on the town where we’re moving to say, ‘Are we gonna be accepted in this school? Is everything going to be OK for our kids here?’"
She continued, “This country is a completely different place for gay and lesbian families now as opposed to when we got together 23 years ago. But there are still families all over this country where they may not know an out, gay person … and they certainly do not know out, lesbian mothers with kids.”
The new State of Motherhood survey from Motherly found the majority of moms had not discussed issues like racism, religion, gender equality, or sexual orientation with their children. Less than a third had discussed sexuality or the LGBTQ+ community.
It's why the Stapletons choose to tell their story and reopen the box from a critical day to the foundation of their family.
“We wanted this from Day 1," Jennifer Stapleton said. "Our kids are beloved. And we’re beloved."
To see more of the Stapletons' story, check out our special report, Motherhood in America, at the video below: