As the LGBT rights movement has progressed in recent decades, having children has become more common for gay men. Many states have changed laws and altered policies to make it easier for couples to adopt or use a surrogate.
Some other countries are much further behind the United States when it comes to LGBT rights. But one Los Angeles couple’s quest to have children resulted in changing the laws in the Czech Republic.
Jirka Ambroz, originally from the Czech Republic, and his husband, Rasmus Dixen Ambroz, originally from Denmark, have been together for 14 years. The two enjoy a good life together and are well off thanks to each owning successful small businesses based in West Hollywood.
Jirka owns Abacus IT, an information technology firm servicing website and networking needs for small-to-medium-sized business that don’t have a full-time IT person. Rasmus owns PureFreight, an international shipping and crating company that services galleries, auction houses and high-end residences.
The couple love their life together and own a beautiful duplex in the Fairfax district. However, as they reached their mid-thirties, they longed for a family.
Having children was always part of the plan. In fact, they discussed eventually having children on one of their first dates. They just weren’t sure when or how to go about it.
“In our 20s and early 30s, we traveled and we partied, we had fun, we were out, we were wild and crazy,” recalls Jirka, 41. “In our mid-thirties, we started asking ourselves, ‘What’s next? There must be something else in life.’ We’d see our straight friends having families and kids, and I’m thinking, ‘I like what I have with my mom, and maybe I would like to have that too with my child’.”
“It was time for us to settle down,” adds Rasmus, 42. “We didn’t want to get too comfortable with our life. We’d known we would one day have children, so we were ready to become parents.”
They researched surrogacy extensively, but ultimately opted not to use an expensive surrogacy agency. Instead, they advertised for a surrogate on Craigslist. Once they found the right surrogate, they got all the legal paperwork in order, passed psychological tests and got an egg donor through an agency.
With the same surrogate and same egg donor, they had two children – Olivia, born in April 2012, and Lukas, born in July 2013.
Blonde-haired Olivia, now almost 6 years old, loves sports and superheroes, but hates wearing dresses, preferring shorts or jeans and a t-shirt. “Olivia runs the house. At least she tries to,” says Jirka.
Dark-blond-haired Lukas is now 4 ½ years old and loves to play the piano, sing and draw. He tends to be quiet and is more introspective. “We think he’s going to be more the artist in the family,” Jirka says.
The couple’s life revolves around the children. Even though both are busy with their respective companies, they make sure their work is completed by 5 p.m. When they return home, their time is devoted entirely to family.
They feel lucky and are extremely cognizant of how far the LGBT rights movement has come in the past two decades.
“The fact I can sit here and have my own home and a husband and two kids, we are so thankful to the previous generations that did this for us,” Jirka says. “[The earlier generations] perhaps wanted to have families and kids themselves, but they couldn’t because society just would not allow them to. They fought for all our rights. Their fight allowed us to have kids. ”
Even though Jirka and Rasmus are nicely settled into a Southern California lifestyle, they haven’t forgotten their European roots. They travel home at least once a year, while their family and friends frequently come to visit them.
“Our guest bedroom always seems to be busy,” says Jirka. “My mother [a retired legal secretary] comes for a month three times a year to help when the kids are out of school. Rasmus’s family comes. Our friends come. I don’t think we ever go for more than a week or two between guests.”
The couple wanted their children to appreciate their fathers’ European heritage. Both Olivia and Lukas automatically had American citizenship since they were both born in America, but Jirka wanted Olivia and Lukas to also be Czech citizens. In order to make that happen, they had to take the Czech government to court.
LGBT rights have not progressed as far in the Czech Republic as they have in America. While domestic partnership is allowed there, same-sex marriage is not. Same-sex couples cannot adopt children as a couple, only as individuals.
The matter of surrogacy for gay parents in the Czech Republic is still murky. Getting a Czech birth certificate for Olivia and Lukas (and the corresponding Czech citizenship that accompanies that) created hurdles they never imagined.
Filling out the birth certificates in California was easy – Jirka and Rasmus were listed as the two parents. However, when they applied for the Czech birth certificate, the form was denied because two men were listed on the California birth certificate.
“The Czech government had never seen two men on a birth certificate. The clerk saw it and said, ‘No,'” recalls Jirka, who became an American citizen several years ago, while also maintaining his Czech citizenship. Similarly, Rasmus also now has dual citizenship in America and Denmark.
Czech law only allowed for one male name on the birth certificate. So, when the couple tried to get a Czech birth certificate for their children, they had to put down Jirka as the father and the mother as unknown.
However, Jirka would not settle for that since it excluded any legal rights for Rasmus.
“I could never do that. It’s such a high risk. If something were to happen to me, the children could be taken away,” says Jirka. “Other gay couples in Czech Republic who have used surrogates, have to list one man and then the surrogate as the mother. So, only one man is father of the child, legally.”
With the help of a Czech LGBT legal rights group (the Czech equivalent of Lambda Legal), they petitioned the government to have Rasmus’s name put on the birth certificate, saying it was discrimination. Czech LGBT group handled the case pro bono because it would be precedent setting in the Czech Republic
The case went all the way to the Czech Supreme Court, which ruled in their favor in July 2017. The ruling got tremendous publicity in the Czech Republic, much of it negative. The Czech president even spoke against the ruling, strongly disagreeing with the court’s decision. But the decision stood.
“We created history. It was the first time two men had ever been listed on a birth certificate there,” says Jirka.
And by creating history, they made it easier for other same-sex couples in the Czech Republic to have children in the future.
“Do we need them to have Czech citizenship? No. It was a principal thing,” says Jirka. “It just goes back to we are so thankful and appreciative to the previous generations for what they have done [to advance LGBT rights]. We can have kids now, something we couldn’t have done 30 or 40 years ago. So, if we can do this little thing for other gay couples in the Czech Republic, it is our way of helping advance LGBT rights there.”
More Legal Battles
While they were victorious with the birth certificates, they face more legal battles.
In the Czech Republic, a woman’s last name always ends with “ova.” Thus Olivia’s name would be Olivia Ambrozova in the Czech Republic but her brother would be Lukas Ambroz.
While siblings having the difference in the last names is normal in the Czech Republic, it is not in America. The confusion could potentially lead to problems. So, they are currently petitioning the court to allow Olivia’s name to just be Ambroz without the “ova.”
If that is approved, they will again create history.
Also, Jirka and Rasmus would like their children to have Danish citizenship. However, they face hurdles in Denmark similar to the ones they faced in the Czech Republic.
LGBT rights in Denmark are much further along than in the Czech Republic. Same-sex marriage has been allowed there since 2012 and same-sex adoption is not unusual. However, Denmark, like the Czech Republic, only allows a male and fa emale name to be on the birth certificate.
So, Jirka and Rasmus will have to jump through legal hoops to get Olivia and Lukas’s birth certificates recognized in Denmark.
Another complication is the fact that triple citizenship is rarely ever allowed anywhere in the world, so the Danish court, or possibly the Danish government, will have to approve it.
“We haven’t done much yet in Denmark,” says Rasmus. “We’re not actively pursuing it at the moment.”
Further complicating the situation is the fact the Church of Denmark is actively involved in the government and is likely to be opposed to putting the names of two men on a birth certificate. (The Czech Republic is a largely atheist country thanks to decades of Communist rule, so the church there has no involvement with government).
“Denmark is gay-friendly, but there are still these areas where the laws aren’t equal,” says Rasmus. “People like to think there is no discrimination in Denmark, but then they hear about this sort of thing and realize there is. With the church involved with the government, we don’t know if they will allow it.”
Living the American Dream
Despite the legal battles still looming, their victory in the Czech Republic in 2017 caps off an amazing tale for Rasmus and Jirka who sincerely feel they are living the American dream, even if they weren’t born here.
Jirka Ambroz was born in 1976, when Czechoslovakia was still under Communist rule. The Berlin Wall fell in 1989 when he was 13. His teenage years were filled with change as the country became both democratic and capitalist. In 1993, Czechoslovakia peacefully split into two nations, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
As a teenager, Jirka, who was raised in Děčín in the Sudetenland region, near the German border, loved watching “Beverly Hills 90210” and “Melrose Place” on television and dreamed of coming to America.
That dream became a reality in October 1998 when Jirka arrived with $500 in his pocket, unable to speak English. He had a six-month visa and came to Los Angeles only because a friend of a friend was already living here. The friend met him at LAX and helped set him up in a $400 a month unfurnished room in a house in Marina del Rey. He purchased a pillow and blanket at Ross Dress for Less and slept on the floor.
Jirka got a job selling sunglasses on Venice Beach, making $5.25 an hour. Later, he got a second job on Venice Beach applying henna tattoos. Still later he got a third job at a restaurant on Melrose Avenue. In between jobs, he took “English as a Second Language” classes at Venice High School. However, Jirka, who already spoke Czech, German and Russian, says he picked up a lot of English just by interacting with people on Venice Beach.
When his visa was up, he returned to the Czech Republic, but missed America and returned a few months later. That time, he lived near Laguna Beach and purchased a small HP computer from Costco. Out of curiosity, he took it apart and put it back together, multiple times. Soon, he was helping friends with their computer problems.
“People asked me questions about the computer and I was able to give them answers,” recalls Jirka. “I slowly got more confident and started charging for my answers and my time. Then I put advertising in the newspaper and that’s how I started my computer business.”
That computer fix-it business was originally called Computer Czech, but when he found himself explaining what the name meant too often, he changed it to Abacus IT.
Meanwhile, Rasmus Dixen, was born in 1975 in Denmark, and lived in a small town of Slagelse, about 60 miles southwest of Copenhagen. He worked for a Danish shipping company that sent him to America in 2000. He first worked in Minnesota, but in 2002, was transferred to Los Angeles.
Fate intervened in September 2003 when both Rasmus and Jirka attended the same dance party at the Wiltern Theater. They quickly became a couple and were soon living together.
They were quietly married in 2014 in California, then had a lavish commitment ceremony in Prague with family and friends.
“The wedding we wanted would have been super-expensive in America, so we had the ceremony in Prague,” says Jirka.
Even though it was a private ceremony, it generated significant media coverage in the Czech Republic. Olivia was just 2 and Lukas was just 1, but both were part of that ceremony. The couple say they have absolutely no regrets about having children. Their life is fuller thanks to the children.
Even though they are busy running their own businesses, they don’t have a nanny or any full-time help raising the kids.
“What would be the purpose if we had help?” asks Jirka. “We would not experience the whole of parenthood. If I had help here, they would take care of my kids and I would just kiss them at night. That’s not why we had children. Although, if we did have a nanny, I would not be this exhausted.”
Rasmus agrees, saying that the children have become the central focus of their lives.
“It’s an amazing feeling having them around, talking to them, seeing them grow and develop,” says Rasmus. “When you have kids, everything really becomes outside of that. Everything else suddenly becomes outside noise.”
The names Olivia and Lukas were chosen because they wanted names that existed in all three languages – English, Czech and Danish. Both children have Dixen (Rasmus’s last name before the marriage) as their middle names.
Olivia and Lukas are already fluent in English, Czech and Danish. When the housekeeper comes in once a week, Jirka has requested that she only speak Spanish to the children so they will learn that as well.
Conversations around the dinner table are held in English because that is the only language all four family members have in common.
As happy as Jirka and Rasmus are to have Olivia and Lukas, they have no plans to have any more children.
“I’m happy where I am,” Jirka says. “People keep telling me it’s the American Dream or it’s a huge accomplishment. I don’t think about it as a dream. I just believe that if you work hard and you want something, you can get it. As many flaws America has, as many issues as America has, it is still the only place in the world, when you really want something and you work hard, you can still accomplish it. I don’t think I would get this opportunity to have everything I have today in Europe. It just wouldn’t be possible.”