How will the new fertility laws affect LGBT families?

Baby feet April 6th, 2009

Lesbians in the UK undergoing fertility treatment have new rights from today, 6 April 2009. Milly Shaw spoke to three lesbian families to find out how it might affect them.

The new Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 allows both parents in a same-sex couple to be automatically named on the child’s birth certificate. Previously, only the mother who gave birth would be named, and the other mother would have to go through the adoption process in order to be legally recognised as the child’s parent.

The other big change for lesbians and single women seeking fertility treatment is the change in how fertility clinics assess their suitability. Clinics must now take into account ‘the welfare of the child’ when providing treatment, rather than ‘the need for a father’.

The new legislation was widely celebrated as a victory for LGBT rights when it was announced in May 2008, but what impact will it have on real LGBT families?

Lesbian families

Lauren Hall and her partner live in Brighton and are in the process of having intrauterine insemination (IUI) fertility treatments.

“My partner had one treatment last week, so if it’s worked and she’s pregnant we will have missed the new legislation by a week,” says Lauren. “I’ll have to go through the whole adoption process, which will be really annoying.

“We’ve got some friends who were in the same position as us and they found the adoption process a real hassle, especially with all the extra complications of having to look after a tiny baby at the same time. I’m pleased that the law has come in, but on a personal level I wish it could have come a little bit earlier.”

The new law may be good news for women using fertility treatment such as IUI or in vitro fertilization (IVF), but it won’t have any impact on women who become pregnant through other means, such as Kate Joester, who lives in Edinburgh and has two children.

Kate and her partner Nikki used the home insemination method and co-parent with a male couple. The male couple are each the biological dad of one child, and both the ‘social dads’ of both children.

“The new law won’t have any impact at all,” says Kate. “My kids each have two legally recognised parents: me and their respective biological dads. The new law won’t allow any more than two parents, so to give my partner parental rights would mean severing the dad’s rights. Since we all parent the kids, that wouldn’t be right.”

One lesbian couple who have already benefited from both being the legal parents of their child from birth is Dana Rudolph of Mombian blog, and her partner Helen. To conceive their now five-year-old son, Dana donated an egg which Helen carried using IVF treatment.

Dana and Helen live in New Jersey, which does not automatically grant parental rights to the non-birth mother of a lesbian couple. However, the issue was so important to the couple that they petitioned the state to grant Dana the right to be a legal parent from the moment of their son’s birth – and they won.

Legal recognition as a co-parent had important practical implications for the couple. “There was no lag time between birth and adoption,” explains Dana. “So if I was hit by a truck, my son was guaranteed my Social Security benefits.”

There were also important emotional reasons for claiming parents rights, as Dana wryly observes: “I probably would have been surly about needing to go through the process of home studies and such in order to adopt my own genetic son.”

The wider picture

The new Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 will make a huge difference to some parents, but all of the women we spoke to emphasised other factors which had a bigger impact on their status as LGBT parents.

For Dana and Helen, the biggest issue is the lack of federal recognition of their relationship. They are married in Massachusetts, but their marriage is not recognised outside of the state, and they receive no federal benefits afforded to heterosexual married couples.

Gay marriage is about public perception as much as legal benefits, believes Dana: “I think attitude changes are as important as legal ones,” she says. “This is why I don’t think a status like ‘civil unions’ would work. It still doesn’t have the same clout as marriage.”

Public recognition is also important for Lauren, who was shocked by the reaction of some of her friends and family to the news that she and her partner were trying for a baby.

“When I told my sister she was going to be an aunty it’s like she didn’t really think she would be,” explains Lauren. “I think in her head it’s not really my baby, because I’m not the one that’s going to be pregnant.”

For Kate, the problem go much deeper. She is frustrated by the narrow legal definition of what makes a family, and the underlying assumption that the heterosexual model of the nuclear family is the ideal to aim for.

“I’m a bit disappointed in the way LGBT communities seem to think this is ‘it’,” says Kate. “It’s brilliant for a lot of families, and I’m really glad for them. I’ve campaigned for this to happen, too. But I’m not so sure that those families are going to keep on campaigning for mine - I see a lot of comments where people are saying ‘our families are recognised!’ as if ‘our families’ were always like their family.

“Sometimes there are better options outside the mainstream. Sometimes LGBT people have learned things from being ‘outsiders’, about how to build a family and community, and we’re throwing all that away in order to buy into a model that isn’t all that great.

“We should start from children and the realities of their families: they need to be protected and recognised as they are, not according to anyone’s ideal of how they should be.

“We’re missing an opportunity to support kids and their families, and also to question the model of family that’s screwed so many people over in the past.”

 comments

  • Hello! Thank you for the great, in-depth article on the new legislation in the UK. I’ve passed along a link to your post at http://www.proudparenting.com/node/2926

    Please let me know if you want anything changed or removed.

    My best,

    Jeff

    Jeff Bennett ∼ April 9th, 2009 3:20 pm
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