MIAMI (AP) — When Massimiliano Gerina donated his sperm to a lesbian couple nearly three years ago, the gay hair dresser wanted to be a father, not just a donor. Several months into his friend's pregnancy, though, he said the couple tried to force him out, leading to a lengthy court battle.
After years of heartbreak and distrust and tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees, the couple approached Gerina with an agreement last week. Three names would appear on Emma's birth certificate, and Maria Italiano and her partner, Cher Filippazzo, were given sole parental responsibility, which means they get to make decisions about Emma's health and well-being, according to their attorneys.
Gerina missed Emma's birth and her first words, but now he gets weekly visits with his daughter, who is almost 2.
"We created this family that is very unusual," Gerina said. "Love doesn't have sex or color. If you have love to give to a child, please just do it."
Gerina, a 35-year-old stylist who cuts hair at a trendy salon, moved to Miami in 2005 from Italy. He said he always wanted to be a father, but worried it wouldn't happen because he was gay. And he said he didn't have a relationship with his own father.
He became friends with the couple after a few years of styling Italiano's hair. When she and Filippazzo approached him in 2010 about donating sperm and being a father, it seemed ideal, Gerina said.
"We went in always with the intention that Emma is going to know who her dad is ... we wanted him to have a role in her life but not as a parent," Filippazzo, 38, said.
The women, who were married in Connecticut, had spent thousands of dollars trying to get pregnant through in-vitro fertilization, but it never took. So the trio worked out the arrangement at a pizzeria and a few weeks later Italiano, 43, was pregnant.
"I never took this lightly. I knew that there was going to be money involved, time, emotions ... and I was ready for it," Gerina said Friday, sitting in an outdoor cafe in front of the salon where he works.
Gerina was on the phone with the couple almost daily. He went to the ultrasound and friends threw him a baby shower. Everything seemed fine.
But seven months into the pregnancy, Gerina said the couple asked him to sign legal documents that essentially gave away his rights.
"Of course, I was hurt," he said.
He hired a lawyer, who drew up legal papers describing the situation he thought had agreed to, but he said the women refused to sign it. In the meantime, he sued the couple and got a tattoo in honor of Emma on his arm.
Then, a few weeks before the trial, he said Filippazzo called him and said she only cared about doing what was right for her daughter.
"Emma needs you and you need Emma," he recalled Filippazzo saying. "I want her to know that we came out between us with an agreement. I don't want a judge, a stranger, to decide."
A judge signed off on the arrangement on Jan. 31. In two years, the couple will consider letting Gerina have overnight visits with Emma.
Steve Majors, spokesman for the Family Equality Council in Massachusetts, said there weren't any national statistics on couples who decide to co-parent, but he said the Florida case was significant.
"The fact that we have a dad who is playing a role in the upbringing of a child and being recognized on a birth certificate is very important because it speaks to the larger problem of many couples out there who do not have legal ties to their own children," said Majors, whose group advocates on behalf of same-sex families.
Gerina's attorney, Karyn Begin, said the three will navigate their future on their own terms.
"What's important right now is that we have conditions that exist for this family to be together and only time will tell how it plays out for them," Begin said.
For now, the three are busy planning Emma's second birthday. They need to find a bounce house and decide whether to have an Elmo or Dora the Explorer cake, Gerina said.
"I love Massimo," Filippazzo said tearfully, referring to Gerina. "I think he needed to feel that I love and appreciate him and that we could forgive and go forward."