It all comes down to love

Shawn Hennessey, with mom Maureen Hennessy and their dogs Harper ( small ) and Scout in their back yard on the 400 block of W. Price St. in Germantown section of Philadelphia on Thursday, July 11, 2013. He has created a campaign for public contributions to help his mother and bring an awareness to marriage equality in Pennsylvania. ( ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER )

ALL SHAWN Hennessey wants is for his mom to get the same benefits that any other grieving widow would.

But that's not likely to happen any time soon, since Pennsylvania still doesn't recognize gay marriage. His birth mother, Maureen Hennessey, was in a committed, loving relationship for 29 years with Mary Beth McIntyre, who died of lung cancer in May.

Like any good son, Hennessey, who performs in a group called Hennessey Bonfire, can't stand the thought of seeing his mother go without. In May, he organized a crowd-sourced fundraising campaign on to help her out. It brought in nearly $10,000 over 30 days.

The singer/songwriter also is dedicating proceeds from his new CD, "Let's Get Carried Away," to her.

The title cut is an upbeat, catchy ode to love that Hennessey originally wrote for his wife of three years. He later realized it also applies to the issue of marriage equality.

Let's get carried away, with this love

I wanna get carried away, with this love

Let's get carried away . . .

"I want it to become the mantra for people who are on the fence about marriage equality," Hennessey told me last week. "Because, really, it comes down to love."

He got that lesson early on growing up in a home with two lesbian mothers. Even though he was just 4, Hennessey still remembers the first time he saw his mother's future spouse. McIntyre had opened a car door, causing Hennessey to snap, " 'Get out of my van!' and slam the door in her face. She forgave me and raised me as her own," he recalled.

At the time, McIntyre also was raising her nephew and niece. The two women's combined family lived in a rowhouse in Northeast Philly. Eventually, the family moved to a twin in southwest Germantown, where Hennessey graduated from Germantown Friends School in 1998.

"It was a little bit like the 'Brady Bunch.' It was fun. My parents were in love. More than anything, they cared for their kids," Hennessey recalled. "They found peace in each other, found love in each other . . . I wasn't ashamed of it in any way.

"I was proud of it. I was like, 'Come meet my parents. They're different. They're cool,' " he said. "Their relationship was different only because they were two women. Nothing else was that different."

After majoring in music in college, Hennessey traveled to Ghana, where he spent a month studying the Ewe people's drumming techniques. He brought back a bunch of instruments and began hosting jam sessions in his home in Northern Liberties. The band Leana Song, in which Hennessey is a singer and a percussionist, was born out of that experience.

Hennessey spent a number of years performing, traveling to Istanbul, Tahiti and Haiti, and also organizing the Lower School World Percussion Ensemble at Germantown Friends, where he teaches at an after-school program once a week. He was performing at the Fire in Northern Liberties when he met an Israeli retailer named Padmini Iris Shamir. They married three months later.

Four years ago, the Hennessey family was shaken with the devastating news that McIntyre had lung cancer. She'd been the primary breadwinner, working as a financial consultant for the U.S. Navy's foreign military sales program and later in her own firm, Mackee Inc., which did military contracting. Maureen, a public-school teacher, devoted herself to caring for her partner.

At night, they'd lie awake worrying about what would happen after McIntyre passed on. McIntyre would fret: When are you going to be able to go back to work? Are you going to be able to stay in this house? This house is too big for you.

"It was completely wrong that Mary Beth would have to be dying and worrying about what's going to happen to me," Maureen Hennessey recalled. "We were living on two incomes and now we have one. And it's the little one."

Despite having raised a family together and remaining committed longer than many heterosexual couples, Maureen has to pay a 15 percent inheritance tax on McIntyre's property instead of inheriting it tax-free (less than $1 million) had she been married. And unless something changes, she won't automatically be eligible to get her late partner's Social Security benefits.

It's appalling, considering that the women were together for 29 years. In 2011, they legally married in Massachusetts in a ceremony on the beach.

Hennessey's birth mother is part of a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday challenging Pennsylvania's Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as being between a man and a woman. The 1996 law also doesn't recognize same-sex marriages that take place elsewhere.

Hennessey said, "If people get a look at our family, maybe their minds will change."


On Twitter: @JeniceArmstrong