Same Sex Parenting
Being in a same-sex relationship does not mean that you and your partner cannot become parents.
There are many options for becoming a parent with your same-sex partner.
Whilst adoption and fostering may be the answer for some couples, others may wish to have a child that is biologically related to one of them. Options open for same-sex couples who wish for their child to be biologically related to one of them include surrogacy (for gay couples), donor insemination (for lesbian couples) and co-parenting.
Adoption provides a child with a new family when it is not possible for them to live with their biological family, this could be due to a number of different reasons. Children of all ages are in need of adoption; therefore, if adopting a newborn baby or a very young child is something you wish to do, this could be an option for you. Conversely, if you feel that adopting an elder child would be the best option for you, this is also a possibility.
To be able to adopt, you must be over 21 years of age and be able to provide a stable and loving home for children. Adoption is a possibility for you regardless of marital status, race, religion, sexual orientation or whether you are in or out of work. Same-sex couples have been able to adopt jointly since 2005.
Being able to provide a child with a stable home until they reach adulthood and beyond is essential. Couples can apply to adopt through a local authority or through an adoption agency. Applications can be made within any local authority, not just the one you live in.
When considering adoption as an option, couples must be aware and remember that the adoption process can be lengthy and demanding.
Couples must also take into consideration that many of the children waiting to be adopted in the UK may have had traumatic backgrounds and often have behavioural problems as a result. Couples must be confident that this would be something they could manage before considering adoption.
Foster care provides a child in need with a home. There are more than 63,000 children estimated to be living with foster families across the UK and it is estimated that a further 8,370 foster carers are needed. A child can be placed into foster care by social services departments for a variety of different reasons.
Many children will eventually return to their families and only need to be in foster care for a matter of days or weeks, however in some cases it may take much longer, or it may not be possible for a child to return home at all and therefore will be in need of adoption or long-term fostering and will need to be provided with a new family and home.
In most cases, children placed in foster care will still have regular contact with their families and their parents will continue to have responsibilities towards them throughout the time they are living in foster care. This only changes if the child is adopted.
You can apply to become a foster carer from the age of 18. You can become a foster carer regardless of marital status, sexual orientation, race, religion, whether you are already a parent or not, whether you are in or out of work, whether you own your own house or rent (as long as it’s stable), or if you are past retirement age, as long as you are in good health. You don’t need any formal qualifications to become a foster carer.
As with children in need of adopting, most of the children needing foster care also have had traumatic backgrounds and often have behavioural problems as a result. However, authorities do offer training and support to foster carers for dealing with these difficulties. Couples must be confident that this would be something they could manage before considering fostering.
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 surrogate’s own eggs or those of an egg donor can be fertilised with 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).
Sperm Donation for Gay Men
As well as potentially having your own child with your same-sex partner, you may also wish to help a single woman or a lesbian couple to become parents by donating your sperm. You can donate sperm to an anonymous person via a fertility clinic. Alternatively, you can donate to a known friend or donate directly to someone you have met through a connection service such as Pride Angel.
Donor insemination can either be performed within a fertility clinic or in a person’s home environment using a home insemination kit.
If donating through an HFEA registered clinic, you will be screened to ensure that you are not carrying any sexually transmitted infections or certain genetic disorders. The sperm is isolated for six months and is only used if you have tested negative for any STI’s or certain genetic disorders.
With donating sperm to an anonymous recipient via a fertility clinic, you will not have any 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 only be able to contact you once they have reached the age of 18. If they wish to contact you when they reach 18, they will have legal access to your information and will be able to find out your name and address.
It is important to seek legal advice before considering donating your sperm directly to a woman or a couple using home insemination as your legal responsibilities are dependent upon who you donate to and whether they choose for you to be named on the child’s birth certificate.
Donor Insemination for Lesbian Couples
Donor insemination is the process in which a male’s sperm is used to inseminate the intended child's biological mother to conceive a child.
You can use an anonymous donor through a fertility clinic or you can receive donated sperm directly from a known friend or someone you have met through a connection service such as Pride Angel.
Donor insemination can either be performed within a fertility clinic or in your home environment using a home insemination kit.
If you receive donor insemination through a HFEA registered clinic, then you can ensure and be reassured that the donor has been screened to check they are free from any sexually transmitted infections and certain genetic disorders. The sperm is isolated for six months and is only used if the donor tested negative for any STI’s or certain genetic disorders.
UK law allows donor-conceived individuals to access information about their sperm donor for medical, social and emotional reasons.
Donors are required to register ‘non-identifying’ information, such as physical characteristics and medical background and ‘identifying’ information, such as full name and date of birth. This information will be provided to the clinic and recorded confidentially on the Register of Information held at the HFEA.
Recipients of donor sperm are allowed to have access to ‘non-identifying’ information only. However, once any individual conceived with donor sperm turns 16, they have the right to request ‘non-identifying’ information and from the age of 18, they have the right to request ‘identifying’ information.
On 6th April 2009, the laws changed affecting the rights of same-sex female couples. Depending on which method you use (home insemination or through a licensed fertility clinic) and whether or not you are in a civil partnership/marriage, there can be implications regarding legal parenthood.
For lesbian couples in a civil partnership or marriage, the non-birth mother will automatically be the legal second parent of the child and will be named as the second parent on their child’s birth certificate, whether they use home insemination or a fertility clinic. The donor will have no legal parenthood.
For lesbian couples who are not in a civil partnership or marriage, they will need to complete a form at the clinic for the non-birth mother to be the legal parent, and for her to appear on the child’s birth certificate. Again, the donor will have no legal parenthood.
However, if the baby is conceived outside of a fertility clinic through home insemination and the couple are not in a civil partnership or married, the non-birth mother will have to apply to adopt the child to gain legal rights and the donor may be classed as the child’s legal father and will therefore have parental rights. It is important to seek legal advice before considering home insemination if you and your same-sex partner are not in a civil partnership or married.
Before considering any of these donor insemination options, it is important to thoroughly discuss which one of you will be the biological mother and therefore the feelings of the non-biological or ‘non –birth’ mother need to be considered. You will need to decide whether to use a known donor or an anonymous donor and consider the advantages and disadvantages of each option.
Advantages of using a known donor include the ability to understand more about the donor’s personality traits and the donor having involvement in the child’s life as an ‘Uncle’ figure for example, without them having full parental responsibility, or through a co-parenting arrangement.
It is important to be aware of the legal implications of using a known sperm donor if this is the option you are considering.
Co-parenting is an arrangement where two people of the opposite sex agree to conceive and raise a child together when they are not in a relationship.
This could be either a same-sex couple and a third person (a female for a gay couple or a male for a lesbian couple) or another couple who team up to bring up a child together.
It can also mean a single gay male and a single lesbian female team up together to bring up a child if they have not found a companion.
With co-parenting, parental responsibility is shared and a number of details need to be considered, such as, what role each parent will have in their child’s life, how much contact the child will get with each parent and how to split financial costs of bringing up their child.
It is advised that you seek legal advice before considering co-parenting as this option can be complicated.
All intended parents involved must be able to discuss with one another what they each except from their co-parenting arrangement from the start as this will prevent problems from occurring in the future.
It is important for all intended parents to have a strong friendship with one another and if there is a couple involved within your co-parenting arrangement, whether it is a heterosexual couple or a same-sex couple, they must have a strong and loving relationship and must ensure that co-parenting is the option that they both want.
In most co-parenting arrangements, the child has more than two parents, but in the UK, the law says that a child can only have two legal parents, even if there are more than two people involved with the child’s upbringing. Therefore if you and your same-sex partner wish to co-parent with a person of the opposite sex, only the biological mother and father will have legal parental rights.
If a gay male in a same-sex relationship donates his sperm to a single female and they intend to co-parent the child, he as the biological father will be treated as the legal father. However, there are a few ways in which his same-sex partner may also gain status in respect of the child, such as, if the couple are in a civil partnership or married, together with the birth mother they can sign a parental responsibility agreement to grant the biological father’s same-sex partner parental responsibility. This gives the non-biological father authority with regards to making parental decisions; however he will not be treated as a ‘parent’ regarding inheritance and it is important for him to make a will.
The couple may also be able to apply for a joint residence order if they are not civil partners or married, this will also give the non-biological father parental responsibility.
Adoption is not a suitable option, as this would eliminate the birth mother’s legal status as the child’s parent.
If a female in a same-sex relationship intends to co-parent, and her and her partner are in a civil partnership or married when they conceive the child, her and her partner would automatically become legal parents of the child. Therefore, the biological father would have to apply for parental responsibility if they intend to co-parent as he would not be treated as a legal parent.
If the couple are not civil partners or married, the rules change. If the child is conceived through a fertility clinic, the biological mother and her same-sex partner would be able to choose whether they wish for the child’s biological father or the child’s non-biological mother to be the second parent.
If the child is not conceived through a UK licensed fertility clinic, the biological father will most likely be viewed as the second legal parent.
Co-parenting is complex and it is advised that you seek legal advice before considering it as an option.
Whichever option gay and lesbian couples decide is best for them in order to have children, the most important values are that children are raised in a safe, secure and loving environment. It is significant that both parents are responsible adults and are able to meet the needs of their child or children.
Children need to be provided with consistency and security. The gender of each of their parents is not what’s important. What they can provide for the child is what matters.
Many studies have shown that same-sex parents are just as capable as heterosexual parents at raising happy, well adjusted, well rounded children.
Researchers at the University of Melbourne found that children of same-sex parents fared better in health and well-being than children with heterosexual parents. The children from same-sex parent families scored around 6% higher on general health and family cohesion compared to those of heterosexual parents. Some suggest having same-sex parents creates happier and healthier children.
It seems the only disadvantage that children may face from having same-sex parents is experiencing bullying or discrimination. This is something that cannot always be avoided in a child’s life regardless of their parents’ gender. Other minority groups may also face bullying and discrimination.
However, schools are becoming increasingly aware of the difficulties that children with same-sex parents may be facing and are taking action to control bullying, however bullying cannot always be avoided and can happen to any child regardless of family dynamics.
Society is becoming more accepting of non-tradition families, however there are unfortunately still many people who refuse to accept them and refuse to see that same-sex parents can offer children adequate parenting.
Attitudes towards same-sex parents vary considerably between countries and even within the same country. It is more likely that more urban diverse areas will be tolerant and accepting of non-traditional families than more rural areas.
Studies have shown that same-sex parents raise more empathetic and understanding children. It is suggested this is possibly because of the personal understanding they have that judging others is unfair. Studies have also shown that children of same-sex parents have a better sense of well-being, it is suggested that this could have something to do with the way their parents don’t default to gender stereotypes.
“Same-sex couples are likely to share responsibilities more equally than heterosexual ones. It is liberating for parents to take on roles that suit their skills rather than defaulting to gender stereotypes, where mum is the primary care giver and dad the primary breadwinner,” said Dr Simon Crouch, leader of the study carried out by the University of Melbourne.
Dr. Crouch said same-sex couples faced less pressure to fulfil traditional gender roles, which led to more harmonious households.
It is important that all parents talk about kindness and acceptance within all families. It is important for heterosexual parents to talk about family diversity with their children so that they can learn about the struggles that other children from different families face.