After 42 years as a couple and no hope of making it down the aisle because gay marriage was illegal in their state of Pennsylvania, Nino Esposito adopted his longtime partner, Roland Drew Bosee Jr., in 2012.
“We just wanted some legitimacy,” Esposito, 78, tells PEOPLE, “and be connected and be a family.”
The decision also gave the pair, who have been together since 1970, legal rights they otherwise would not have had, as both never imagined they could marry.
Says Bosee: “We never thought it would happen.”
But it did. When gay marriage became legal in Pennsylvania in 2014, followed by the Supreme Court’s willingness to hear arguments to legalize gay marriage this year, the couple tried to get the adoption annulled so they could finally marry, petitioning Allegheny County Judge Lawrence O’Toole.
But O’Toole refused, ruling the state’s adoption law wouldn’t allow it. It is a decision Esposito and Bosee, 68, are appealing in Superior Court, with oral arguments expected to begin in December.
“Their fundamental right to marry has been denied,” says the couple’s Pittsburgh-based attorney, Andrew Gross. Adds Bosee: “We were extremely disappointed.”
The couple and Gross don’t know how common the practice of gay adult adoption is, with Esposito and Bosee personally knowing just one other couple who live in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, who went through an adoption.
And once gay marriage became legal in Pennsylvania last year, it was the Harrisburg couple’s quick and easy annulment that motivated Esposito and Bosee to dissolve their adoption in order to marry.
A Lasting Love
The couple first met on Easter Sunday in 1970, but they didn t become a couple until later that year – Friday, November 13 to be exact – when Esposito offered Bosee the stool he was sitting on at a Pittsburgh bar.
“We knew from day one we would be together forever,” Bosee tells PEOPLE. “I can’t say why we felt that way.”
Bosee quickly moved in with Esposito and his parents at their Pittsburgh home. A few years later, the couple moved out on their own and have remained in Pittsburgh.
Over the decades, all the finances and properties between the two were equally shared. Each had power of attorney over the other, and each was allowed to visit the other during hospitalizations. “But we knew there was no guarantee of hospital visits,” says Bosee.
During a visit to Gross in 2012 to update their wills, the couple discussed the idea of adoption to guarantee rights straight couples had, such as hospital visits to family members and financial perks, including a lower inheritance tax rate.
“We’ve always looked at it as being in a union,” Bosee says, “and this was just one more notch in committing that union as far as we were concerned.”
Esposito, older by a decade, would adopt Bosee, a fairly straightforward and easy process.
The adoption didn’t change how one felt about the other, they say.
“Maybe from looking at it from the outside it seems like it should have,” Bosee shares, “but it was just one more arrow in our quiver of making our relationship that much stronger.”
Despite these legal roadblocks, the couple has “absolutely” felt married in their hearts, says Bosee.
“How could you not after 45 years? It’s after the fact confirmation of something we’ve known is the case for all these years,” he says. “It’s nice to have it initially more legitimized with the adoption and now hopefully with the marriage final confirmation of that. It’s something we never questioned.”
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey has reportedly taken an interest the case, and sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch this week asking the Justice Department to consider issuing guidance in their case and others like it.
The couple is heartened by Casey’s interest, and are buoyed by the support they have received from friends and neighbors, most of whom never knew about the adoption.
A decision by a three-judge panel is expected in January at the earliest. No wedding plans have been set.
“We will just be so happy to get married,” says Bosee.
Adds Esposito: “There’s no turning back now.”