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For Jules Cook and Lucy – or Lu – Wellings, true equality is a long way off. Yes, the main battles about same-sex marriage and an equal age of consent may have been long won in Britain, but society’s attitudes have yet to match the legislative achievements. Together for 18 years, the issue is particularly pressing as they have a 13-year-old daughter, Hope.
“Whenever we go somewhere new it’s always at the front of my mind that potentially we are going to have to deal with the fact that [our relationship] might not be alright for somebody,” Wellings tells the Thomson Reuters Foundation when we meet at the couple's terraced house in Bristol. “I always filter everything and think what is appropriate in this space that we are in – which is quite strenuous – at times it is quite stressful.”
The incidents might seem minor, but there have been several occasions over the years that have affected the couple.
“We came back from holiday one time to Bristol Airport," Cook says. "And the [female border guard] interrogated us as she couldn’t work out why my surname was Cook, Lu’s is Wellings and Hope’s is Wellings-Cook. She said straight away, ‘Where’s the father?’”
There was also the time with the taxi driver on the day of their civil partnership who refused to believe they were the couple about to be married. And the time at the bank when Wellings was not allowed to open her daughter’s first account as she was not Hope’s “proper” mother.
Small incidents, but ones that build up. “You always think you’re about to be outed,” says Cook.
Yet with the negatives come the positives. Both mums glow as they tell the story of how they became parents. Hope, a bright, articulate 13-year-old is obviously much loved.
The story starts 18 years ago with an advert in Venue, Bristol’s equivalent to Time Out, the listings guide. “Lesbian couple looking for male sperm donor” read the ad kick-starting a two-year courtship of the potential father.
“We wanted someone who shared our values as well as someone who didn’t want to be a parent,” explains Wellings. “We didn’t want a third parent.”
The prospective father’s reason for having a child was to leave a legacy in the world. “But it was very clear that he didn’t want to get involved in the day-to-day parenting which is exactly what we wanted,” Wellings continues.
He is still involved in Hope’s life, however. “I see him quite often when I have a holiday and I’m not in school,” says Hope. “He drives down from Devon and takes me takes me out of for the day; we normally go into town and go shopping.”
He came twice this summer. “The second time he had just got a new dog,” Hope says with obvious delight. “So we went to Weston-super-Mare [a small town 30 km south-west of Bristol] and went for a walk around the beach.”
But it is with Hope in mind that the small incidents of homophobia rankle. If the parents shy away from standing up for their rights, what example does this set for their daughter?
Hope has also frequently asked her parents why they don’t hold hands in public. “It’s really upsetting as you can’t expect a tiny little person to understand why you don’t,” says Cook. “And I think that has a long-lasting effect on your relationship with someone; the fact you can’t be open and expressive any time you want, just like other people can.
“It becomes a habit and that’s hard and that has an impact. “It’s heart breaking isn’t it?” Cook asks. “It just goes to show we’ve come a long way but we’ve still got a long way to go.”
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