Gay Parenting Options
Being a gay man or couple does not have to mean going through life without having a family of your own. There are many options for gay men wanting to become parents. Although adoption or fostering may be an option for some people, many have an overwhelming desire to have their own biological child, even if the child has only half of their parent’s genes. Some gay men may wish to pass on their genes by donating sperm without the parental or financial responsibility. While for those wishing to parent their own biological child, options include co-parenting and surrogacy.
Adoption is a way of providing a new family for a child when living with their own family is not possible. For many children, adoption may be their only hope of experiencing secure family life. If you are over 21 years old and you can provide a permanent, stable and caring home, you can be considered for adoption. It doesn't matter whether you are married or single, in or out of work, or whatever your race, religion or sexuality. Same-sex couples have been able to adopt a child jointly since 2005. The key question an adoption agency will ask is: can you provide a stable home for a child until adulthood and beyond? All sorts of people can make a success of adoption. Couples can apply to adopt through a local authority or an adoption agency, and applications can be made within any local authority not just the one you live in. Although most local authorities are keen to find lesbian and gay adoptive parents for children, the process can be lengthy and gruelling. However it is worth bearing in mind that many children available for adoption in the UK have had traumatic backgrounds and often bring challenging behaviour as a result.
Fostering is about caring for a child in your own home. For a whole variety of reasons there are around 42,300 children (in England year to March 2008) who are placed with foster carers by social services departments. Many of these children will eventually return to their families. In some cases this may take a matter of days or weeks in others it may take much longer. If a return is not possible a decision may be made to find them a permanent new family, either through adoption or long-term fostering. In the vast majority of cases children in foster care will have regular contact with their families and their parents will continue to have responsibilities towards them throughout the time they are in foster care. Foster carers can be single or a couple, they do not need to be married. You can be gay, lesbian or heterosexual. Most fostering agencies welcome applications from people who are in their mid twenties however it is quite common for people to foster up until their 60's. The majority of children needing foster care have had troubled upbringing and often have challenging behaviour as a result. Authorities however do offer training and support to foster carers on how to deal with these difficulties.
Surrogacy is an option for gay men, whether single or as part of a couple, wanting to be full time parents. Surrogacy is where another woman carries the baby for intended parents but does not herself intend to be a parent. Either the surrogates own eggs or those of an egg donor can be fertilised by the man’s sperm.
Surrogacy is legal in the UK, but there are a number of restrictions. It is illegal to advertise that you are looking for a surrogate or willing to be a surrogate, and it is illegal for third parties to match for payment, unless they are non-profit organisations (of which there are three in the UK: Brilliant Beginnings, COTS and Surrogacy UK).
Surrogacy agreements are also not recognised or enforceable under UK law. The surrogate (and if she is married her spouse) will be the legal parents of the child when he or she is born. The intended parents will need to apply to the family court for a parental order to become the legal parents and have the birth certificate reissued in their names. There are a number of criteria which need to be met, and it is sensible to seek legal advice before proceeding with a surrogacy arrangement to make sure you understand these (and if you don’t meet the criteria you have an alternative legal plan in place).
Being a gay single man or within a couple, you may wish to donate sperm to a single woman or lesbian couple. You can donate to an unknown person through a fertility clinic or alternatively you can donate directly to a friend or someone you have met through a connection service such as Pride Angel. Donor insemination can be performed within a fertility clinic or home environment using a home insemination kit. If you donate through an HFEA registered clinic then you will be screened to ensure that you are free from sexually transmitted infections and certain genetic disorders. The sperm is quarantined and used only once you have tested negative for HIV and other infections. If you donate to an anonymous recipient through a fertility clinic you will have no legal or financial obligations to the child. Your details will be recorded on the Register of Information held at the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, and your offspring will have legal rights to access that information as they grow up, including being able to find out your name and address once they are 18 (which they can use to contact you if they wish). If you donate directly to a woman or couple using home insemination your legal responsibilities are dependent upon who you donate to and whether you are named on the birth certificate, therefore it is important to seek legal advice.
Co-parenting is typically an arrangement between a gay man and a lesbian woman or gay and lesbian couple, who team up to parent the child together, however this is not an exclusive option as many single people also choose this option as they may not have found the ‘right person’. In this situation parental responsibility is shared and many details need to be worked out such as, what role each parent will have, how much contact with the child will they have and how financial costs will be split. As this can be complicated it is advisable to get legal advice before entering into any co-parenting arrangement. Being able to discuss with your co-parent what you expect from the start, can prevent a lot of problems occurring further down the line.
However gay couples decide to have children, the most important emphasis is that children are raised in a safe and loving environment, with responsible parents meeting their needs. Good parenting regardless of sexuality requires consistency and security. Gay and lesbian couples are just as likely as heterosexual parents to raise well adjusted and well rounded children. There is much recent evidence from studies to support this finding, that a child having gay or lesbian parents does not affect their self-esteem and well being.
Children from gay or lesbian parents may sometimes experience discrimination, the same as other minority groups face. Within schools teachers need to be diligent about protecting children from unfair treatment and bullying, as this can lead to low self-esteem if not handled correctly. Fortunately schools are becoming more aware of the difficulties that children experience and are recognising the importance of controlling bullying, however this is something that can happen to any child, throughout their childhood regardless of their family dynamics.
In recent years acceptance of non-traditional families has increased, however there are unfortunately still many people who refuse to accept that gay or lesbian parents can offer children proper parenting. Attitudes vary considerably between countries and even within the same country. Typically more urban diverse areas are more likely to be tolerant and accepting of non-traditional families than more rural areas.
Studies have shown that children raised in gay or lesbian families are more likely to be empathetic and understanding of others, possibly because they have personal understanding that judging someone is unfair. Lessons in kindness and consideration to others are important within all families and heterosexual parents can help by talking to their children about the struggles that other children or families face.