March 17, 2004 -- Kelli Carpenter O'Donnell's marriage to Rosie O'Donnell has made the pair one of the most high profile couples in the the fight for same-sex marriage. Kelli answers your questions regarding the pair's new business venture, their lives and role in the same-sex marriage debate.
Question: Why do this interview? What do you hope its impact can be?
— New York
Answer: I choose to do this interview for a few reasons. First, I believe that the gay community is at a cross-roads and this is our civil rights movement. It felt like it was time for me to speak and for my story to hopefully have some sort of impact on others. I also have started my new company and wanted others to learn about it.
Question First of all, I would like to congratulate you and Rosie for the stand that you have taken to keep your rights and freedom!!! How has your life changed since you have been public with your relationship with Rosie? — Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Answer: Thank you for the congratulations. Getting married was truly amazing. My life has not changed too much since I have been more public with Rosie. Most people do not recognize me on a day to day basis if I am not standing next to her. I do feel a larger responsibility to the GLBT community and I want to represent them in a positive light.
Question: I was wondering what the children call you and Rosie, do they call you both mom? What do most children raised by a lesbian couple call the "dad" figure?
— Chillicothe, Ohio
Answer: There is no "dad" figure in our house; however, the kids are surrounded by their uncles and their grandfather as male role models.
Parker and Chelsea knew me before I became a parent in the household, so they both call me, Kelli. Blake and Vivi call me, momma and they call Rosie, more mama. Blake made up that name.
Question: My partner and I have been together for six years, we would like to have children, and however I have my doubts. How do people treat you and your children when they find out that you are lesbians? Thank you,
— Karen, Tampa, Fla. Answer: I understand your doubts, but also can tell you that the joys that children bring to your life far surpass any discrimination we have received. We live in a fairly accepting community here in New York so we are lucky. The most important thing is to have our voices heard as gay parents so that others can feel accepted.
Question I am very interested in finding out all I can about the Family Cruise Vacations you spoke about last night on 20/20. My partner and I would love to take our 11 year old daughter on a cruise such as this with other same sex parents. I look forward to any information you have to share. Thank you!
— Donna, Canada
Answer: The inaugural cruise departing on July 11 will truly be the gay and lesbian travel experience of the year. There will be a thousand gay families and their extended families/friends sailing out of NYC for a weeklong cruise to Florida and the Bahamas. We will offer top notch entertainment plus a fully supervised kids program on-board. For more information please call our office at 866 732 6822 or visit our Web site at: www.rfamilyvacations.com. Don't miss out on this experience!
Question Hi Kelli,I just wanted to let you know what an inspiration you are. I would like to know how to help with the fight against discrimination about same sex marriages?
— Chester, N.H.
Answer: A few suggestions would be to contact (via e-mail, letter and telephone) your local government representative. Also, speak to your friends and families about your opinions and encourage all of them to vote.
Question Thank you for being willing to appear on 20/20 with Barbara Walters. Were you nervous about doing it considering the risks involved? Especially, the Presidents determination to amend the Constitution — and all the "homophobic" attitudes so prevalent right now?
Answer: I was nervous, but it is for those very reasons that you suggested that I was compelled to come forward and to speak. It is time for all of us to make our voices and faces known.
Question What will the two of you do if your marriage is "overturned"?
Answer:We will continue to be married in our hearts and in our lives, and will pursue any legal action necessary to validate our marriage.
Question: Did you and Rosie go on a first date? If so, where did you go? Did you date for a while before getting serious?
— Quebec, Canada
Answer: We went to a small restaurant in New York City called Joe Allen's for our first date. We did date for a while before we decided it was serious due to the fact that there were children involved. We wanted to be sure it was right.
Question My question to you is based upon the wonderful business you and Rosie have created, R Family Vacations. I think it is wonderful that you are providing a safe and natural environment for families to feel like they can relax without worry of public scrutiny. My hesitation is only that, could this not in a way, teach gay families that they indeed need to be among their "own kind" to be safe and accepted?
Answer: Our children live in an environment that is not always supportive of our family. It is an empowering experience for the children to have the sense of community and to meet other families like theirs. It is a chance for them to feel completely accepted before entering back into their reality.
Question: Do you think in future it might be possible for you and Rosie to expand your horizons and create a vacation setting that welcomes BOTH gay and straight families to come spend time together? … I know my family would be more than happy to be the first "straight" family to sign up and join the cruise to show our undying, unrelenting support for your cause and your freedom to live as you were made to. — Alana, Toronto, Ontario
Answer: We have a number of straight families coming on-board our ship. These are friends and families of the gay community. All of the entertainment on-board will be catered to both straight and gay audiences. So yes, please join us.
Question This travel group that you have started is fantastic and can only bring families closer as any vacation trapped on a boat with relative would do, just joking. My question was how did you come up with the idea and the concept? Thanks. — SheenaAnswer: My business partner, Gregg Kaminsky, worked for a gay male travel company a few years back. He invited Rosie to perform on one of his cruises and she felt like it would be an amazing experience for gay families. So a couple of years later, we started the company.
Question: I admire your courage and your sense of true self despite all risks. My question is how must one go about changing their last name to their partner's last name? I want to have my partner's last name, but am unsure how to since we are not legally recognized as being married. Thank You for being you!!!
— York, Pa.
Answer: I am not sure if the laws/rules are different in each state, but I worked with our county and filed to change with an attorney. They made a public claim in the local newspaper to be sure that no one in my community objected to the name change (standard procedure) and then proceeded with filing the paperwork. I suggest contacting a lawyer in your town to be advised of the possible laws in your home town.
Question: If you could talk to President Bush about gay marriage, what would you ask him?
— Apple Valley, Calif.
Answer: Why is he allowed to marry the person he loves and I am not? Would he want the same right for one of his daughters or one of his siblings if they were gay?
Question: Do you believe same-sex marriages will be declared legal throughout the country in our lifetime?
— Las Vegas, Nev.
Answer: I believe that we will continue to make progress and I hope my children will be able to witness us being married in our home state in their lifetime.
Question: Hey there! I am a 21-year-old female that just ended a two year relationship with a girl I love. My parents had such a hard time with it, and drilled in my head the idea that living life with a girl would cause me nothing but trouble. I am trying to convince myself I like men so I can have the life my parents want me to, but it's hard. Our relationship ended because my parents convinced me it was no good. On the show, your parents said they had trouble with you and Rosie. How did you get past that and continue to be with her?
— Victoria, BC Canada
Answer: I feel for you and the struggles that you have with your family. It is a difficult path, but one that many of us have faced. I found a wonderful support network in my friends and my siblings and within the gay community.
My suggestion is to remain steadfast in who you are and please never feel less than because of who you love. I have many people in my life that I consider my family of choice and not my family of birth. Surround yourself with people that love and support you.
Question: Just wondering what advice you have for other same sex couples … Everyday, as you know, "we" are constantly being hit with anti-gay rhetoric. Every relationship faces their battles, but usually there isn't a public out-crying that the relationship is immoral and wrong on top of it!
What do you and Rosie do to help the kids, and yourselves, get through it?
Answer: We have constant communication with our children regarding who our family is and their feelings about being in a gay family.I believe that the best defense is a good offense. So we try to keep the conversation open with our children in order to not allow any negative feelings they may have build up.
Question: Thank you Kelli (and Rosie) for being a visible and positive role model for gay people in U.S. Do you have plans to advance the gay-marriage movement in the next month(s)? What are the plans (e.g. advertisements, lobbying, fund-raisers). Thank you for your courage and openness!
— Waverly, Iowa
Answer: We are exploring the possibility of filing for marital status in the state of N.Y. We will continue to fight for our rights as a couple and a family.
Question: Was it hard hiding your sexuality? I mean I'm a 16-year-old high school sophomore and I'm gay, but sometimes its really hard to hide it and I get a lot of "crap" over it.
— Chino Hills, Calif.
Answer: Yes, it was challenging to be in high school and to be gay. I do believe that progress is being made in high schools across our country. I did live a lie in high school and college in order to not be judged by my peers so I understand your worries. Keep the faith and know that it does get easier as you get older.
Question: I'm gay, 23 years old and I've been dating a man for about six months now. I'm truly in love with him and would like to one day be legally married to him. Here is my question: Do you feel that your relationship with (and love for) Rosie is stronger now that you two have that tie? Thank you!
Answer: Getting married meant so much more to me emotionally than ever thought it would.
Rosie and I have been together for over six years and now have four children, so we made the decision to go to San Francisco in order to make a political statement. I was not prepared for how moved I would be during the vows and the power of saying them out loud.