Jason Tseng

The Ethics of Surrogacy

Filed By Jason Tseng | June 24, 2010 9:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, Marriage Equality, Media
Tags: adoption rights, CNN, Gary & Tony Have a Baby, Gay In America, Soledad O'Brien, surrogacy, surrogacy ethics, surrogate parents

I was recently sent a screener of CNN's upcoming broadcast of Gary and Tony Have a Baby (which airs at 8pm on Thursday). In it, Soledad O'Brien walks us through the lives of Gary Spino and Tony Brown as they attempt to conceive a child through surrogacy. Bil has already highlighted some glaring criticisms of the piece, including its continued presumption of wealth and whiteness of the gay community. While I'm usually the first one to jump on the anti-bourgeois bandwagon, I'll let Bil's critique stand on its own. I am interested in the question of ethics and surrogacy, and why I will only ever adopt if I want to start a family.

There is a trend in the media and the communal dialogue around queer families which has begun to postulate that having children via surrogacy is more desirable, more natural, or more socially acceptable than adoption (at least amongst gay couples). From Gary and Tony Have a Baby, to Kevin and Scotty's odyssey in impregnating their surrogate in ABC's Brothers and Sisters, surrogacy for gay men is increasingly being sold as the BMW of baby making. But what are the real consequences and costs of these decisions? Surrogacy a still relatively uncommon practice for gay men, but I bet if you polled gay male couples today whether they'd prefer to have a child through surrogacy or adoption, I bet that surrogacy would come out on top.

The Economic Imperative

Babies cost money. There's no question about that. The US Department of Agriculture estimates that a family making around $70k will spend over a quarter million dollars ($269,520 to be precise) raising a child from birth to age 17. And that's only if you have all the working parts needed for baby making (i.e. sperm, egg, and gestational carrier). Straight folk get off easy (assuming everyone's bits are working properly), and lesbians can get by since they usually own the hardware (the gestational carrier) and only need a relatively easy-to-procure component. Having a baby becomes more costly and complicated for gay men because they typically only have access to only one of the three components to make a baby, the sperm.

With the knowledge that raising even one child is an enormous task, emotionally and economically, it comes to bear that the health of a family and the child to be is greatly affected by a family's ability to take on those childcare costs. It would stand, that it is in the interest of the child that a couple looking to make an addition to the family has the largest amount of disposable income possible to assure the best quality of life for the child. It therefor becomes economically irresponsible for a couple to spend exorbitant sums of money in the procurement of a child before it even exists. The economic imperative then becomes for families to have children in whichever manner is the most economically efficient (within reason of course).

For most heterosexual couples this course of action is relatively straight forward. It costs virtually nothing for a fertile man to impregnate a fertile woman. Throw in a few dollars for some lube and a copy of the kama sutra, and wham, bham, thank you ma'am... you got a baby. Lesbian couples have the most expensive components of the babymaking process (eggs and gestational carrier), so the cost of a vial of sperm from an fertility agency runs about $180-$250. Overall, relatively negligible. However, for gay male couples the options for expanding their families are much more costly.

The average cost of an international adoption is between $20,000 and $45,000. The cost falls with domestic adoptions which usually run in the $20,000-$25,000 range. And the cost to adopt via the foster care system is virtually nothing (although the foster system comes with its own risks).

The cost of surrogacy on the other hand are astronomical in comparison. According to my internet sleuthing I found that most surrogacy births run total costs between $60,000 to $80,000 in a best case scenario. However Gary and Tony reportedly spent over $110,000 in their quest for a surrogacy birth. Gary and Tony have effectively increased their childcare costs by over 40%... before their child was even born.

Some might say that if you have the money, than you should be free to spend it however you like. While I agree with that to a large extent, it is important to acknowledge the opportunity costs of that choice. $110,000 in surrogacy costs is $110,000 you're not putting towards a college fund for your kid, or investing in your child's healthcare should any medical complications arise. A safety fund of $110,000 is an enormous boon to a child and its parents. So when a couple decides to opt for surrogacy over other methods, it's important to ask what they are giving up.

The Legal Quagmire

Legally speaking, surrogacy, especially for gay couples, is extremely complex and a veritable minefield of legal nightmares. From the get go, eleven states in the US outlaw surrogacy outright (including Gary and Tony's native New York). On top of that laws covering parental rights, adoption, and family law are increasingly complicated as states attempt to define where their jurisdictions lie. Take a look at this example from about.com's Deborah Wald:

Now look at this same scenario for a gay couple. Ohio is a "super-DOMA" state, having passed a statute providing that: "The recognition or extension by the state of the specific statutory benefits of a legal marriage to nonmarital relationships between persons of the same sex or different sexes is against the strong public policy of this state...." Under Ohio law, a married couple using a gestational carrier would be able to claim parentage from birth, based on a combination of genetics and marital presumptions. A gay couple will not be able to make this same claim in Ohio, because of the Ohio DOMA; nor does Ohio allow adoptions by gay couples. So a gay couple using an Ohio surrogate will have to establish legal parentage for at least one of the intended fathers in a different state. Since surrogacy is completely illegal in New York, New York probably isn't an option. Many surrogacy agencies and attorneys in California will encourage the couple to use the California courts to establish their parentage. But given that the couple's only contact with California is their decision to use a California surrogacy agency, it is highly questionable whether California courts actually have jurisdiction over the case.

Take another example: A gay male couple chooses to contract with a gestational carrier in a state that allows gestational surrogacy. This state has a statute providing that the mother-child relationship can be established by a woman giving birth or by DNA tests. For a straight couple in this situation, the intended mother will generally also be the genetic mother (i.e. she will have had her own eggs fertilized and implanted in the gestational carrier), so both women will have legal claims to maternity. In these cases, the intended mother almost always wins due to genetics and/or the original intent of the parties. However, for the gay male couple, the gestational carrier will be the only woman with a claim to maternity, and if she wishes to assert this claim it is not at all clear that intent for the child to have two fathers will defeat this claim - especially in a state that is less-than-hospitable to gay families.

As you can see, it is incredibly easy for any of these legal proceedings to become complicated by unexpected events by any party involved. In Gary and Tony's case it seems to have gone quite smoothly, but what would have happened if either the genetic mother or the gestational mother had refused to sign over their maternity rights? The law is very unclear on how such a dispute would be settled, and there have already been cases where gestational carriers or egg donors have sued for custody and parental rights for children years after the birth. There is very little concrete legal action that can protect a gay couple absolutely from these kinds of legal threats.

The Human Rights Crisis

While questions of the darker side of the surrogacy industry are still being investigated and brought to light, the industry as a whole is relatively young and therefor the fears about issues like human trafficking for surrogacy are low as of now. However, as costs of healthcare and thus surrogacy rise in the post-industrial West, capitalism works its natural course and has already begun to outsource its surrogacy costs to the developing world.

According to the multiple press outlets, including the Affiliated Press, the practice of "surrogate farming" is a rapidly growing industry in India, where large groups of women are brought together to act as surrogates for couples looking to adopt. The regulations around this industry are virtually non-existent. And as Indian women become increasingly desperate as environmental and economic pressures force them from their rural communities, the fears about possible human trafficking for surrogates grows. Currently, companies like Surrogacy Abroad only bill couples $20,000 for the total costs - a price that pails in comparison to Gary and Tony's $110,000 price tag.

The implications of a "rent-a-womb" scenario in India is a dangerous one, yet unfortunately follows in step with much of the trends of outsourcing have been. Developed countries outsource the risks and costs of a trade that has become to menial or costly to produce domestically and therefor turn to the developing world to take on the burdens it no longer wishes to hold. By engaging in the increasingly popular outsourcing of pregnancy, surrogacy literally paves a way for colonizing women's bodies in developing countries and reaping their fruits with far reduced pay.

Radicalism qua Traditionalism

In Gary and Tony Have a Baby, Soledad O'Brien glibly comments that the most radical thing a gay couple can do right now is to have a baby, a very traditional act. I would challenge the notion that two men raising a baby is a progressive radical act, and rather much more of a regressive act of assimilation. Much in the same way that the gay marriage crowd likes to claim that gay marriage will solve a bevy of ills which plague the gay community (including promiscuity, STD and HIV infection rates, homophobia, discrimination, etc.) much of this rhetoric emulates similar marriage rhetoric that came out of the 1950s.

Heterosexual marriage advocates during the 1950s and earlier had long argued that marriage was an essential part of their society's fabric. That marriage provided a stabilizing force with which to tame the free-wheeling and uncontrollable passions of the working man. Where an unmarried man might be less committed to his job because he only needs to support himself, a married man is chained to his job because he bears responsibility for his entire family. So it became widely spread that a married man was a more stable, more employable, and more desirable man. And now, 60 some years later we are getting the same rhetoric shoved down our throats by the gay mainstream.

This same rhetoric of radical traditionalism is being applied here to surrogacy. That by creating families that replicate the nuclear model of father, mother, and genetically congruous children, we generate more equality for our community. However, this "return to normalcy" is in fact an attempt to emulate a model which was structured to cause workers to be more reliant on their employers and move to transfer power from individuals to corporations.

The Death of Chosen Families

One of the queer movement's responses to the sickeningly cookie-cutter life of 1950s America was the generation of the idea of chosen families. These were families that were determined not by kinship, biology, or genetics. They were created organically and intentionally. These families were made up of close, life long friendships which surpassed the thresholds of mere sex or romance, but were deep, committed, and in the end life-saving relationships that arguably brought the gay community through the AIDS crisis.

By returning to a model where kinship is king, genetics are golden, and biology is best, we simultaneously destroy one of the most powerful and radical developments by our community - the notion that our families are not pre-determined fixed relationships. Family is what we make of it. Family is who we choose to love and who we choose to commit to. Our families can come in all kinds of shapes and sizes to address all kind of needs and responsibilities.

But now as the mainstream gay community flocks to the dream of gay marriage and surrogacy-generated families, it becomes very clear that the actual radical family models that were hard fought for by our forbears in the queer community is all but lost on the new generation.

Conclusions

While Gary and Tony have every right to create a family in whichever method they desire, I caution us against viewing their experience as the archetype of gay male couples. As Bil has already discussed, the vast majority of gay male couples have children through adoption, either via international, domestic or through the foster system. Even CNN in their special acknowledged this fact, citing that Gary and Tony will join only roughly 1,000 other gay men to have had a child via surrogacy. 1,000 people not 1,000 couples even.

Surrogacy is indeed a relative rarity, not only due to its exorbitant costs, but also because of its other problematic elements. And on top of all of this, adoption saves lives. There are so many children born into the world without loving homes, that for gay couples seeking children to choose a process which depletes their resources and the well-being of their child-to-be, further traditionalizes the radical queer movement, and deprives an already living child of a loving home is, at least for me, personally, unconscionable.

That is why I will only ever adopt.

crossposted from BelowtheBelt.org


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I'm really glad you wrote about this aspect of the show, Jason. I was tempted to work it into my piece, but felt it was better served just focusing on the lack of diversity.

I agree with you wholeheartedly. I don't find surrogacy to be something worthy of condemnation really, but it's definitely nothing I'd consider with so many already living children suffering in orphanages and foster homes.

These are really important points. I wonder why CNN and Gary and Tony didn't think of them?

Cathy Renna Cathy Renna | June 24, 2010 12:45 PM

in interviews and in the doc gary and tony talk about why they made the decision they did, including the honest assessment that is was partly "ego" in the sense of wanting a biological connection to the child. i won't judge them.

one thing i would add is that is is actually not so cheap to do the artificial insemination route as you suggest, Jason. there is more involved than a vial of sperm (unless of course you know the donor and they are nearby) My partner and I used AI to have our child and while yes, the individual vials of sperm run about what you say, there are many additional costs like storage, shipping and the big ticket item of doctor's visits and the tests that go along with that, as well as in our case, fertility drugs. having a child is clearly one of the most important and serious steps a person or couple can take, and we thought about all the options and chose to have our child this way. as we consider a second adoption is top of mind for us not only because we are older, but for the many reasons you outline.

George Byrd | June 24, 2010 2:45 PM

"There is a trend in the media and the communal dialogue around straight families which has begun to postulate that having biological children is more desirable, more natural, or more socially acceptable than adoption." -- Fixed that for you.

"It therefore becomes economically irresponsible for a couple to spend exorbitant sums of money in the procurement of a child before it even exists."

Couples who go to such conscious and studied lengths in the pursuit of creating families are usually well aware of the costs and can probably afford them all most of the time. The family earning $70k per year is likely not the family spending $100k+ on surrogacy. Even so, the child whose parents only earn $70k per year and somehow spent $100k on surrogacy is still unlikely to suffer when compared to children born every day into poverty.

My mother grew up in near poverty, raised by parents who were very abusive. In the end, she forgave them, as she knew they were doing the best they could with what they had. She is grateful that they gave her life. Personally, if my parents had spent everything they possessed to bring me into the world and had nothing left to raise me, I'd still be grateful to be alive. My life is the most precious gift my parents could have given me.

I think your concerns about surrogacy re: exploitation are perfectly legitimate. There are plenty of bad people in this world, nonetheless, that is no argument against surrogacy per se. Nonetheless, that is only an argument against overseas surrogacy, not surrogacy per se. Any legal problems with surrogacy simply indicate that society and its laws need to catch up with technology and full equal rights.

"I would challenge the notion that two men raising a baby is a progressive radical act, and rather much more of a regressive act of assimilation."

Using the terminology of 'assimilation' is simply buying into the rhetoric of those who would deny us our humanity and our rights. Those who are opposed to same sex sexual orientation and relationships spend all of their time trying to "other" us. Do we really need to "other" ourselves?

To talk of assimilation is to assume that there is some homogenous entity into which one is to assimilate, but I think we all know that straight families and relationships are not the same. To say that gays desiring to have biological children are assimilating is to argue that straight people have a monopoly on what constitutes family, but that is not and should not be true.

Not all straight people desire marriage or children. Not all straight people are capable of having children. When anti-same-sex marriage advocates state that the purpose of marriage is to have children and raise families, we point out that elderly people, physically and mentally ill people, and sterile people are all allowed to get married.

We are human beings, like everyone else. We all have different wants and needs. Discussions of assimilation are irrelevant to me at best, and dangerous at worst. I simply want to live my life as I see fit, and be loved and accepted for who I am by those I care about and left alone by the rest.

"But now as the mainstream gay community flocks to the dream of gay marriage and surrogacy-generated families, it becomes very clear that the actual radical family models that were hard fought for by our forbears in the queer community is all but lost on the new generation."

Chosen families have often been of significant importance to Gays and Lesbians because a hostile culture separated them from their given families; however, Gays and Lesbians didn't invent chosen families. In fact, straight people create chosen families too, and always have. Gays, Lesbians and Straights will all continue to create chosen families. That is part of our human nature.

"While Gary and Tony have every right to create a family in whichever method they desire."

That's it, end of story. They don't need you or anyone else judging their situation. Adoption is indeed very important, and I hope some day that I might adopt myself. It is, however, a completely separate issue from surrogacy. It would be considered very strange to say to a straight person, "Why are you having a biological child, why not adopt?" It should be equally strange to question a Gay or Lesbian person's choice. It is a natural, human desire to reproduce, and we are, after all, human, just like everyone else. We don't need to assimilate, we are already human.

"Using the terminology of 'assimilation' is simply buying into the rhetoric of those who would deny us our humanity and our rights. Those who are opposed to same sex sexual orientation and relationships spend all of their time trying to "other" us. Do we really need to "other" ourselves?"

This hits the nail on the head, I think, and sums up my beef with people who call themselves "anti-assimilationist" or anything similar. On the one hand, it's important for us to have our identity, but I think that after centuries of being "otherized" as a community, a lot of us have grown so accustomed to being outsiders that they actually consider it desirable and deride things like marriage, long-term relationships and child rearing as "assimilation" and a pathetic attempt to ape straight people rather than an inevitable result of our slow move toward legal and social equality and the fact that we can now be who we are without fear of arrest or (in many states) job loss.

We have a choice between equality and inequality -- there's no in-between, and I think the aftermath of a certain Supreme Court decision back in the 1890s made that clear. Humans have a natural predilection for organizing themselves along tribal lines and avoiding or persecuting what is seen as "other." As long as we go out of our way to separate ourselves, others will separate us in turn, and we will be treated as less than equal.

There's an understandable fear, I think, that equality means having to give up one's cultural identity and practices and thus assimilating into the broader culture, but that only happens when and to the extent that one allows it. Just because Gary and Tony are committed and have settled down and had a baby, that doesn't necessarily mean they don't have all kinds of weird leather and rubber things in their bedroom closet or enjoy the occasional threeway.

I actually would argue that the "anti-assimilation" crowd isn't so much about self-othering, but more about questioning a desire to adhere and model ourselves after normative society.

Most social theory movements (feminist, gender, queer, socialist etc) have come to the realization that societal norms are engineered in a way to subtly control individuals by normalizing their behavior. It's less about ghettoizing our community and more about questioning the baseline. Of course I want equality and for everyone no matter their background to have the same access to their personal philosophical, social, and economic projects. But things like gay marriage is a veiled "equality".

Marriage as an institution is a fundamentally unequal institution. It has been for a millenia. It has been used to treat women like property, it has been used to justify war and the consolidation of power (economic, social, and political)... and even in the modern era, marriage continues to be fundamentally unequal. Studies show that almost all marriages are skewed when it comes to things like reproductive labor (childcare, housecare, cultural labor). One partner almost always ends up doing more of the reproductive labor than the other. In fact, lesbian couples are one of the only contingents of society that have been able to form egalitarian relationships (according to studies). The problem with one partner doing more reproductive labor than the other is that this kind of work is traditionally hidden in the private/domestic sphere, not assigned monetary value, and consequently de-valued because of its inability to be traded on the larger labor markets.

The end argument is that queer folk who are against gay marriage believe that instead of chaining everyone to the same inegalitarian family model, we should liberate everyone, not just gay people... to form their own egalitarian relationships.

George Byrd | June 24, 2010 4:53 PM

"I actually would argue that the "anti-assimilation" crowd isn't so much about self-othering, but more about questioning a desire to adhere and model ourselves after normative society."

What you fail to acknowledge here is that many of the decisions and values that comprise this 'normative society' are made by gays and lesbians. Gays and lesbians are brought up in the same culture, are products of and contribute to this 'normative society'. It's fine if you want to question normative society, but don't single out gays and lesbians, as if the burden is somehow on us because of our sexual minority status to question the norm. I don't have to question the norm just because you tell me I have to -- for any reason, let alone because we may share the same sexual orientation.

Each person is an individual, comprised of many facets. Just because some of the decisions we make and values we hold appear to overlap with the norm does not mean in any way that we are wholly congruous with the norm, as if there were any such thing as a wholly congruous norm. We have every right not only to comprise part of the norm, but to also not be part of the norm *at the same time*.

That is the essence of liberty and equality. The straights don't get to define who I am, set me apart, or other me, and neither do you. I can be both inside the norm and outside of it simultaneously, for I am a complex creature.

As for marriage being an inherently unequal institution, you're obviously not acknowledging how our culture has changed over the years. It may indeed be years before marriage is a culturally equal institution, but it is not the special burden of gays and lesbians to correct this problem. It is all of society's, gay and straight together.

As it is, marriage is a legally equal institution, except when it comes to gays and lesbians, and that should be corrected, for all people deserve equal treatment under the law.

"Societal norms" are the glue that holds society together, and attempts to eliminate them usually end in disaster. Look at the engineered social upheaval of Nazi Germany or China during the Cultural Revolution for examples of this. That doesn't mean every one should be blindly followed and praised, but it doesn't mean they should all be overthrown willy-nilly in the hopes of producing some utopian future, either.

Political radicalism in general, but particularly that of the left, relies on an idealistic and frankly unrealistic view of human nature and a disregard for history. Any large and complex society requires organization, and that inevitably leads to a class or caste system. That's why every communist regime initially sought to overthrow social hierarchies but only ended up perpetuating them under a different name. Even in democratic societies, power and wealth end up becoming concentrated in the hands of the few. You can certainly make society more equitable so that every person has equal opportunities, but this utopian vision that some people seem to have is a pipe dream.

I keep seeing all these posts by anti-marriage radical queers about how marriage is evil, patriarchal, oppressive, blah blah blah. But what I don't see is a serious and carefully considered proposal for a feasible and tenable alternative. At the end of the day, marriage is a legal agreement that confers more than 1,100 legal rights and responsibilities, all bundled into one convenient little contract for a small fee, and it remains regarded as a good and desirable thing among the overwhelming majority of people in the world.

I'm all for egalitarian relationships, but without a marriage contract, many of these rights are not attainable, and those that are can only be secured via a gigantic stack of legal documents drawn up with the aid of an attorney for thousands and thousands of dollars. So what's the alternative?

wooow it usually takes me longer than 6 or 7 responses for Godwin's law to take effect: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godwin's_law

Was the Nazi comparison really appropriate for a conversation about radical queer families? like really?

I actually think that moving away from a marriage contract would be surprisingly easy. Just get government out of the marriage business entirely. They're already beginning to do similar things in Europe and France. The Pacte Civiles of France are open to straight and gay couples. It's not much of an extension to open up to other forms of families.

To me, having a legal system that has families assign heads of households (the adults) and dependents (children) no matter the number or configuration would be actually not that difficult.

This way we'll be able to honor the vastness of the American family to include set ups like the increasingly common African American family that is matriarchal and multi-generational (Woman living with her daughter and grandchildren). If the Grandmother is a primary caregiver, she should have those rights and that relationship protected and honored by the legal system. Currently, all she is, is just a friendly stranger. No tangible legal rights or responsibilities to the child she is raising.

That's just one example.

You know what citing Godwin's Law has in common with Nazi Germany? It's getting REALLY FUCKING OLD, like saying "Jinx!" every time two people say the same thing at once. There might as well be a new law: "In Internet discussions, it's inevitable that any mention of the word 'Nazi,' regardless of the context or intent, will prompt someone to cite Godwin's Law and/or infer that its use constitutes a comparison of someone's beliefs with Nazism."

I merely mentioned Nazi Germany alongside the Chinese Cultural Revolution as an example of the catastrophe that often results from attempts to create radical societal upheaval, in response to your remark about societal norms. I wasn't calling anyone a Nazi or implying that anyone's ideology was comparable to Nazism.

Your mention of Pacte Civiles in France leaves out one important fact: Straight couples in France can still get married; same-sex couples can't. I'm fine with getting the government out of marriage, but whatever name you give its replacement -- PACS, civil union or domestic partnership -- it's still just marriage under a different name.

i agree with you that the Pactes civile in france isn't a perfect scenario. But it is an example of a legal relationship that is open to all in a non-marriage set up, no matter what your orientation. What i'm suggesting is broader than a marriage-lite set up. It's radically different in that it places commitment at the center of the family. Heads of Households are not construed to be in a romantic or sexual relationship (like in the example I gave of matriarchal multigenerational families). But you're right, if you create a parallel legal relationship that essentially emulates the marriage parameters, it's not any better. Families should be allowed to define themselves as they are, not as the government determines they should be.

Well, until France abolishes marriage completely and replaces it with PACS, the situation will continue to be unequal. I would even argue that it's more unequal than it would be if straight people couldn't enter PACS because a legally superior institution, marriage, is still for straight people only, so it's not even a "separate but equal" type of situation.

And most people who enter marriages, civil unions or domestic partnerships do so out of love and commitment and a desire to spend the rest of their lives with their partners. Whatever alternative to marriage you create will only emulate marriage, but use a different name.

As for other family arrangements, grandparents can already sign up to be legal guardians and share responsibilities for children with the parents.

Calm down, Alaric, no need to get mad.

First, as to "societal norms," it used to be against societal norms for women to get divorced. And remarry. And yet, today, Susan Sarandon and millions of non-celebrity women (a few of whom I know) have no problem talking openly about their blended families, the result of marrying (or, in the case of Sarandon, sometimes not marrying) different people. Or do you consider that too radical, the idea that women might get divorced and form families with multiple partners?

Changing societal norms doesn't require engineering - that often happens steadily and over time (with the strenuous activism of many, as in the case of the women's movement). That is in fact a prime argument for gay marriage made by many gays and lesbians for gay marriage - that societal norms have changed to include gay men and lesbians getting married, is it not?

That's just one example of the ways in which a significant "societal norm" has changed. If we were to use the changing of "societal norms" as the guidelines for a stable world, the end of the world would be tomorrow. I should add that two gay men raising a child is also, in the eyes of many, a flouting of a "societal norm."

As for your point about PACS etc. "it's still just marriage under a different name." Well, exactly - and what would be wrong with that? What if gays and straights were allowed to enter into a variety of different relationships that do give people a range of options, whether they're married to each other or not, or whether they're romantically affiliated or not (Canada has several of these, btw, see Nancy Polikoff's book). Jason's example of a grandmother being given the legal rights to make decisions on behalf of the grandchildren she's raised is an excellent one. What is so fundamentally wrong with that?

I've never understood the logic of the gay marriage movement - that somehow ONLY the word marriage will suffice and when the question is asked, "Okay, in light of the fact that fewer people are interested in marriage these days, why don't we just work to make those benefits available to everyone?" the answer is to talk about societal norms (in rhetoric that often mimics the religious right) or about ... well, silence, mostly. Yet, Obama has been steadily working to open up these benefits to everyone.

Lastly, and most importantly, let's bring this back to the issue of surrogacy and adoption that Jason's original post addresses. There are issues with all the different kinds of family-making alluded to here (Dorothy Richardson, a professor at Northwestern U., has pointed out the problematic structure of foster care, which often deliberately separates Black children from their mothers and funnels them into a frequently troubled and troubling) foster care system). But all of this cries out for the reconfiguration of what we consider ideal forms of "family" - not a further calcifying of the same.

Apologies but I got the name of that professor wrong. It's Dr. Dorothy Roberts:

http://www.northwestern.edu/ipr/people/roberts.html

"Using the terminology of 'assimilation' is simply buying into the rhetoric of those who would deny us our humanity and our rights. Those who are opposed to same sex sexual orientation and relationships spend all of their time trying to "other" us. Do we really need to "other" ourselves?"

Resisting assimilation is not necessarily "othering" ourselves. Rather, it is recognizing that assimilation means attempting to become insiders in a mainstream society which is still unequal without critiquing the inequality and the structures which prop them up. The society which says you need to be married, have 2 kids, move to the suburbs, drive multiple cars, own a home, live by yourself, etc. is built on all sorts of problematic assumptions & injustices. We live in a racist, classist, nationalistic, violence-driven, consumption-driven, individualist society. It not only hurts folks who find themselves outside of privileged groups (queers, women, poor people, immigrants, non-citizens, etc.) it also hurts the privileged by attempting to get us to all conform to some notion of civility.. which none of us really do.

Which is all really distraction from Jason's main focus of adoption vs surrogacy.

Yes children are born into all sorts of conditions. And yes, children can grow up to forgive their parents. It's not helpful to say "I would still be thankful if my parents spent everything to bring me into this world... I'd be thankful to just be here," because of course countless of sperms go discarded every day and even more fertilized embryos don't implant or are not needed for IVF. There is no way we can possibly bring every possible potential child into creation. What we can do is focus on the children we do or will have. And at that time, I think Jason's point is relevant: is $100,000 better used for surrogacy or as the start to a savings fund?

And of course, Jason looked only at the specific family and the children of that immediate family. He didn't even bother to ask, which he rightly could have, if spending $100,000 to produce a child when there are so many children here in the US that are in need of homes.

Yes, parenting is a deeply personal matter and still I am not prepared to make decisions as a hopefully-future-father without a critical examination of all the possibilities and all of the ramifications of my actions. I feel more prepared to approach parenting options after this article.

George Byrd | June 24, 2010 5:37 PM

"Which is all really distraction from Jason's main focus of adoption vs surrogacy."

It's not at all a distraction. Jason is arguing that gays and lesbians wishing to have biological children is indicative of a desire for assimilation, which completely overlooks the fact that gays and lesbians are humans and share the same human urges as straight people to reproduce. That is a fundamentally human urge -- and right, I might add. Furthermore, although there may be arguments to be made in general about surrogacy vs. adoption, he is specifically putting it in the context of gays and lesbians vs. straight people. By doing so, he is devaluing the basic human urges of gays and lesbians to reproduce, and therefore committing an unwitting act of homophobia.

Jason's post is pointing out the extremely problematic political and economic contexts in which surrogacy operates - there's nothing homophobic, unwitting or not, about that. While his specific case study has to do with gays and lesbians, I doubt he would deny its validity in the case of straight people. We could - and should - make similar points about international adoption (think about the revelations, in the late 1990s, that many Guatemalan babies were discovered to have been kidnapped from their mothers) or about foster care (Dr. Dorothy Roberts at Northwestern has written about the abuses in and of the system).

No solution will ever be perfect, and no one is implicated as a monster simply because they chose one over the other - but surely there's nothing wrong with being asked to examine the often deeply troubled systems that allow us to form our families. Having information enables us to make the best judgments. For instance, many people prefer open adoptions so that they know the birth mother and her circumstances etc.

And, as a feminist, may I add: reproduction is not a fundamental human urge. It's a fundamental human requirement, often imposed on women. There's a big difference. The fact that it's described as a "natural urge" does not make it so - it simply makes it easier to regulate.

George Byrd | June 24, 2010 7:25 PM

"And, as a feminist, may I add: reproduction is not a fundamental human urge."

I'm sorry to tell you this, but feminism has nothing to do with it. There is a difference between the urge to reproduce and the conscious decision whether or not to have children. Reproduction is a fundamental human urge, and every human, male or female, who responds to sexual stimuli experiences it. Only those who are asexual (and such people do indeed exist) do not experience the urge.

Women who do not want to become pregnant become pregnant every day. Whether through the failure of birth control, rape or poor planning, women get pregnant. This happens because their bodies want to get pregnant, are designed to get pregnant, and it is only by trying to trick our bodies that we avoid pregnancy. Every minute of every day, a man's body is preparing for reproduction through the creation of sperm.

In the case of people with same-sex attractions, our bodies' desires for reproduction do not line up with our ability to reproduce with the object of our attraction, but we experience the urge to reproduce nonetheless.

I emphasize all of this and defend the statement vigorously because in judging the decisions of gays and lesbians on how to express and fulfill that urge differently from such judgments about heterosexuals, we are treating gays and lesbians differently from straight people, and marginalizing ourselves. Discussions of assimilation in the context of LGBT reproduction are inherently discriminatory, regardless of who is making them.

"Women who do not want to become pregnant become pregnant every day. Whether through the failure of birth control, rape or poor planning, women get pregnant. This happens because their bodies want to get pregnant, are designed to get pregnant, and it is only by trying to trick our bodies that we avoid pregnancy."

This has to be the most incredibly sexist set of statement I've ever seen from anyone, regarding women and reproduction. And I've actually had conversations with people from the Westboro church. And you, George Byrd, know all this how?

In brief: No. Lots of people don't feel the biological imperative to reproduce while being tremendously sexual. It's one thing to say that gays and lesbians have the right to carry on their family lines any way they want - and I'd agree with that, with the caveats discussed above. It's also one thing to say that some people have a genuine desire to reproduce - and that desire may be any combination of biology and cultural conditioning, which can be the case. But to make a statement that establishes that women might actually get pregnant through rape because, deep down, they want to get pregnant - or have I read you wrong? If that is indeed what you're saying, you're no different than the fundamentalist right wing that would withhold adoption rights from queers.

Regardless, I think your statement reveals a lot about your politics around women.

George Byrd | June 24, 2010 8:18 PM

Men create semen. Men get erections which fit into vaginas, where they deposit semen. Women create eggs and ovulate. Women are biologically designed to get pregnant and carry babies to term and then to nurse them with milk. Men are designed to impregnate them.

Yes, a womans *body* wants to get pregnant. You are clearly not distinguishing between a woman's biological design and her own conscious decision making abilities. I said in my statement above, which you seem to either have not read or to have forgotten in your haste to make assumptions about me because I'm a man talking about female reproduction, that women WHO DO NOT WANT TO GET PREGNANT get pregnant all of the time.

Men share the same *biological* urge to reproduce. When they sexually stimulate their reproductive organs, they ejaculate. The biological purpose of ejaculation is impregnation. Plenty of men get women pregnant who had no intention of doing so, but did so nonetheless because of poor decision making or the failure of birth control.

Again, feminism has nothing to do with our bodies' natural urges or design and everything to do with how we consciously use our bodies and maintain sovereignty over them. It is because women's *bodies* want to become pregnant that reproductive freedom is so important to a free and equal society.

George Byrd | June 24, 2010 5:38 PM

"Which is all really distraction from Jason's main focus of adoption vs surrogacy."

It's not at all a distraction. Jason is arguing that gays and lesbians wishing to have biological children is indicative of a desire for assimilation, which completely overlooks the fact that gays and lesbians are humans and share the same human urges as straight people to reproduce. That is a fundamentally human urge -- and right, I might add. Furthermore, although there may be arguments to be made in general about surrogacy vs. adoption, he is specifically putting it in the context of gays and lesbians vs. straight people. By doing so, he is devaluing the basic human urges of gays and lesbians to reproduce, and therefore committing an unwitting act of homophobia.

Regarding surrogacy vs. adoption, I think ethically there's a lot more positive to take away from adoption. The precentages on unwanted adopted children (usually of minority backgrounds) that don't find loving homes is staggeringly high annualy. Personally I think there is something more noble in the process of nurturing children that have been on the whole as marganilzed as many in the gay community are. Of course, the American adoption process is fraught with red tape and heterosexist biases that are worthy of consideration, problems surrogacy might avoid more completley and therfore make it a worthy strategy. All and all, excellent food for thought here. Well done.

My husband and I are working our way through the adoption process -- we chose domestic agency adoption. Along the way we read quite a bit about different family building options, and I offer a few observations.

First, $20,000 to $25,000 is the estimate frequently kicked around for how much adoption "costs." That's true to an extent. That is how much agencies charge to make a placement. When you factor in travel, expenses, legal fees etc. most people spend much more to adopt an infant.

Second, adoption is not completely free of ethical concerns. There are often wide disparaties in the level of income, education and age between prospective adoptive parents and potential birth parents. These disparaties can create subtle or not so subtle pressure to go through with the adoption plan if the birth mother is wavering.

Third, for many people parenting is deeply connected to a genetic or biological tie. It's not important to us, so we chose adoption over surrogacy, but I have a great deal of empathy for people who want that connection.

Finally, as a gay man I don't think there are a lot of images of gay male couples raising children in the media. Studies of gay men raising children are rare. Our families are not well represented. Gay men raising children is not new but that does not mean it is not newsworthy.

Surrogacy is becoming more common and practices related to it are becoming more standard. I think surrogacy can be done ethically, just as adoption can be done unethically (there are still agencies doing closed adoptions, for instance). While your piece purports to present your own analysis of how you would build your own family, it reads more like a condemnation of surrogacy generally.

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