"Strategically this year, you will see a lot more African-American gays and lesbians more active in the movement and more visible," Cannick says. "We can't continue to allow white people to be the face of the gay and lesbian movement."

As one of three black couples with children who are plaintiffs in the ACLU's Maryland lawsuit, Williams and Simon want to show that gay marriage is not just a white issue. "I'm part of a family. I'm part of a church. I'm part of a community. When you do this, you're hurting me," Williams says.

As far as he is concerned, there is no qualitative difference between the civil rights movement - which, among many other things, led to the legalization of interracial marriage - and his ambition to marry his partner. "Hatred is hatred," he says.

Williams is from Elloree, S.C., a rural hamlet where uneasy race relations mirrored those across the deep South. "Social injustice is part of what I grew up with," he says.

When he, his sister and several others desegregated the local elementary school in the mid-1960s, "white people would come by and shoot at our house, trying to scare us," he says. To protect his family, Williams' father "would sit outside with a shotgun," he says.

In 1972, Williams entered South Carolina State University, a historically black college close to his Orangeburg County home. Four years earlier, three students were killed and 27 were wounded when state police opened fire on a campus protest aimed at desegregating a bowling alley. The shooting, which attracted far less coverage than the 1970 Kent State shootings that left four students dead, is remembered as the Orangeburg Massacre.

During the Christmas holiday, Williams, Simon and their family drove to South Carolina to visit his mother, who was celebrating her 80th birthday. "My mom loves [Nigel] like a biological son," Williams says.

By phone from Elloree, Olive Williams says of the couple: "They're doing a good job with the family. The kids seem very happy and everything."

Williams had to adjust to her son's relationship with Simon. "It wasn't anything I was used to in the beginning, but it doesn't seem to be a problem in any way."

The mother of four says it's not for her to tell her children how to live. "I try to go along with what they want and whatever they decide to do. I try to go along with them."

Only after he met Williams did Simon tell his mother he was gay. "When I came out, she wasn't happy. It took time to get used to the fact that I wouldn't have a wife," he says.

Simon's mother, who has since moved close by, has grown to accept the life he shares with Williams. The couple, in turn, has become a bedrock for extended family members, whom they see often.

This summer, when Simon's father visited from Trinidad, he cooked curried goat, rice and peas for the family as Tiara and Alonzo adapted to their new home.

Williams' daughter, Nikki, lives in Atlanta. He rarely saw her after leaving home when she was 4. They have grown close again and are in frequent contact.

The couple seeks the guidance of family and friends in bringing up the kids. "That's what's great about having family resources," Simon says. "Like every parent, you won't have all the answers."

Raising Tiara, in particular, will require a woman's wisdom, they realize. They've designated Simon's niece and one of Williams' fellow choir members at the church to speak to Tiara about such topics as menstruation. "They have an affinity with us and are comfortable with us and will tell her the right things," Simon says.

Once a month, the couple and their kids gather with the support group that they helped to establish, Gay Men of Color Adoptive Families. Their December meeting took place at the Little Gym in Springfield, Va., where 14 kids frolicked while their parents traded adoption hassle stories, snapped lots of photographs and joked about how children have a way of taking over your space.

With 21 adult members from the Washington metro area, the group represents a demographic that came starkly to light in a 2004 study drawn from Census figures. It found that 14 percent of all same-sex households in the United States include at least one person who is black. More than half of those couples are raising children, according to the report, produced by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in collaboration with the National Black Justice Coalition.

And because same-sex black couples are more likely to have kids, work in the public sector and make less money than their white counterparts, they have more to lose from anti-gay family initiatives, the report concluded.

As Daddy Nigel, Daddy Al and their kids wait for their after-church lunch at the Red Lobster, the lawsuit and its symbolic implications take a back seat to reality: They are a family, and plan to remain a family, no matter what the outcome. Besides, right now everyone is busy being silly.

Daddy Al is a "frog in his pond with his family," Kiran says. Da'Nigel is a "bird flying the sky," the kids decide. Because she is so chatty, Tiara, her parents say, "is a parrot flying the sky."

Williams and Kiran find "Barbados" and other words hidden in a puzzle on the kids' menu. Across the table, Simon, who, like the kids, wears a white napkin tied around his neck, mediates a squabble between Alonzo and Tiara concerning a yellow crayon. "Why don't you break it in half, then you'll both have a piece of it?" he asks. Tiara snaps the crayon in two.

At home after lunch, Tiara, Alonzo and Kiran change into shorts and T-shirts, hang up their church clothes and scatter through the house. A budding artist, Tiara displays a self-portrait that shows a beaming little girl with braids standing before a brilliant blue house. A friend liked it so much she copied it, Tiara says.

Alonzo says his stomach hurts. He rests on the couch at Williams' suggestion, and is soon up and about again.

Clutching his math homework, Kiran climbs next to Daddy Al. "I need help," he says. The two get to work on a problem that involves a sandwich cut into four parts.

The rest of this Sunday will not be a day of rest. Simon has gone to the gym, there are chores to do, groceries to buy and a big pile of laundry to wash. But for now, Williams is content to be sitting next to his son, adding fractions, and basking in the tedium of family life.