Growing surrogate pains
It's normal for a loving heterosexual couple to want a baby to fulfil their dreams of starting a family together. But when a gay couple tries to make the same dream come true, things get complicated.
The long-lasting conflict between an American-Spanish gay couple and a Thai surrogate mother over the custody of their surrogate baby daughter has drawn a lot of attention locally and internationally.
According to media reports, Gordon Lake and his partner Manuel Santos Valero used the surrogate's services in Thailand early last year. But, only 10 days after the surrogate mother, Patidta Kusonsrang, gave birth to Carmen, now eight months old, she decided she wanted to keep the baby.
She claimed that she was unaware that they were gay and afraid that they might be part of a human-trafficking ring. The couple also has a two-year-old son conceived with a surrogate in India.
Patidta refused to sign over custody and this barred the couple from getting Carmen a passport to leave Thailand and go home to the US. Patidta also offered to return US$9,250 (313,000 baht) the couple paid her.
Because the baby was born under an old surrogacy law, which states that a child's legal mother is its birth mother, this gives Lake and his partner little hope in their fight for full parental rights.
But they haven't given up. Last week they updated their Facebook page saying they met with the egg donor who wanted the baby to stay with them and agreed to take a DNA test to be used as evidence in court. The result of the test was 99.9%.
The baby is now living with the couple and their son at a secret location in Bangkok. They refuse to leave the country without her and are hoping for a sympathetic judge.
Since the story of their plight made the headlines two months ago, sympathy from a huge crowd of Thai people has poured in for the couple on social media. Many criticised the surrogate and said she must have had a hidden agenda. More than 130,000 people have signed a petition to support the couple.
This case doesn't only show the dark side of commercial surrogacy, which was cracked down upon last year following the controversial Baby Gammy incident and another scandal, which involved a Japanese businessman and his 16 surrogate children, but also brings up the issue regarding gender discrimination, which many believe is a major cause for all the hurdles from the start.
"She thought she was doing this for an 'ordinary couple'," Lake told the media, referring to Patidta. "And we weren't an ordinary couple." Two weeks ago, 100 activists from LGBT networks and other groups working on gender diversity in Thailand submitted a request to the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security to look into the case and speed up negotiations between both sides.
"The couple has the right to be Carmen's parents with no gender discrimination," said an activist. "Laws which protect the rights of the child exist and we would prefer the surrogate mother to settle things without going to court as it may further affect the child."
I sympathise with the couple and hope that the court would rule in favour of them. But I don't wish to see any gay couples engage in the practice of surrogacy. And my wish has nothing to do with gender discrimination.
In my eyes, the LGBT people are just like any other fellow humans and should be treated as such. Their sexual orientation should be respected, their decisions to make any changes to their own bodies should be accepted and, most importantly, their same-sex relationships should be recognised.
But when it comes to having a baby with the help of a surrogate, I'm worried about the child's psychological well-being especially when he/she grows up. I agree when another activist said "raising a child depends on the good intentions of the family" but I don't think "it has nothing to do with the gender of the parents" as he claimed.
Research suggests that most surrogate children have difficulties dealing with the truth -- that they grew up in an unrelated woman's womb and are not biologically related to one or both parents. They are also more likely to encounter emotional problems than children conceived naturally. Such findings only concern surrogate children of heterosexual parents. And I'm afraid to imagine what those of gay parents are likely to face?
Like many others, I always believe that it's best for a baby to be born into a family with both a father and a mother. But, now that we're living in a world with growing gender diversity, we need to have concrete measures to make sure that these surrogate children receive proper upbringing and are doing well with their "distinctive parents". We can't just allow any gay couple to exploit the practice of surrogacy and cross our fingers that everything will be okay for the children.
Surrogate-born children are as meaningful to their "parents" as other normal children are to their heterosexual parents. My only concern is how well-prepared the gay parents are to make sure that their kids blend in with society and feel as happy as other kids of conventional families.
Patcharawalai Sanyanusin is a writer for Life section of Bangkok Post.
Patcharawalai Sanyanusin is a writer for Life section of the Bangkok Post.