Last night, Darren Kennedy presented “Gay Daddy” on RTÉ, a look at the options gay men have in Ireland today if they want to start a family.
If you’ve been paying attention, you know this had the potential to be a very short program. It isn’t though, and you can catch it on RTÉ Player, here.
Darren explored the options of surrogacy (“expensive, and pricey”), co-parenting, fostering, and adoption, including a visit to Amnesty International’s Colm O’Gorman and his husband Paul. Each option was punctuated by a reality-checking visit to Marion Campbell, a Dublin solicitor specialising in Family Law.
So, you want to be a baby daddy?
The documentary was well structured, pacing the depressing facts about gay family law by interspersing Darren’s own hilarious (and presumably exaggerated) attempt to prove he can care for children by taking on his toddler and infant nephews for a whole night and a food shop.
That particular segment could well be separately titled “Why boys need to do childminding when they’re young just like girls do”. He seemed startled by the small, regular annoyances of caring for small children, like getting them in and out of vehicles, getting them to sleep at the same time, getting them to sleep at all, and the emergency of the lost soother that looked like it may have been close to turning into a full-on meltdown, and I don’t mean the infant.
I hope he’s recovered by now.
Surrogacy? (Oh, not that kind of baby daddy, then)
The discussion on surrogacy was fascinating. On a personal note, as someone currently undergoing the pokings and prodings of fertility treatement, I found that I was not as shocked as friends were by Darren’s leaf through the profiles of potential egg donors.
That’s because, after weeks of leafing through sperm donors, my “bizarre detector” is burnt out from over exposure to weird life things. Like how you choose the other half of your potential child’s genetic material without falling in love (or at least lust) with it? The doctors say, “Pick someone who looks like you and your partner”, but really, why wouldn’t I choose the tall PhD?
Surrogacy is also incredibly expensive. I mean, IUI is expensive, but surrogacy is only for millionaires. No one else can afford to drop $100k just to have a child (who will then continue to cost money), no matter how broody they are.
There is also no recognition of surrogacy contracts in Ireland, so if a male couple do go this route and the surrogate changes her mind, she has every legal right to the child, regardless of the terms under which it was conceived.
Real, lived experiences of parenting
Darren visited the UK home of Tony and Barrie Drewitt-Barlow and spent time with their children, all born to surrogates, and spoke to the children there, who were all very happy with their home life.
Interestingly, there were no visits or interviews other than with the presenter’s parents and the solicitor on the subject of co-parenting.The impression given in this program of co-parenting seemed largely negative – that was confusing for children and that the non-biological father wouldn’t have any rights to the child.
The conclusion sort of ignores all the children in Ireland who already have two moms and two dads (the difference being they are two households of a mom and a dad instead of a household of two moms and another of two dads) and the fact the the legal rights problem exists for every option available.
In Ireland, there is no option for Darren’s biological or adopted child to be also the child of his partner, Aidan. As co-parenting is the only real option available to gay men who aren’t wealthy, I was surprised by the negative spin it got in the show. CanuckJacq interviewed a couple last year who are successfully co-parenting a daughter with a single woman, and I was delighted to read how well they’d made it work.
Fostering and adoption in Ireland today
Husbands Vivian Cummins and Erney Breytenbach were interviewed about fostering which is open to gay couples, and they seemed very happy with how they’ve created a family life around the uncertainties of fostering. As was noted in the program, however, fostering does require a parent to be at home, and a lot of people either can’t afford to or don’t want to give up their careers.
Former senator and Amnesty Director Colm O’Gorman opened his home to the documentary and shared the story of how he and his husband Paul ended up with two children, who were adopted. What wasn’t explored was the fact that while gay people are technically allowed to adopt in Ireland, it virtually never happens.
In their case, the children were the children of a friend. In the case of someone trying to simply adopt, there are complications ranging from the fact that children from married parents are not adoptable, to the HSE linking mass attendence with parenting skills, and most foreign countries that straight people could adopt from forbid the adoption of children by gay parents.
If you’re single, you can go through the process closeted, but if you’re in a relationship, there’s no way to hide. We shouldn’t have to.
Equality is key
All that aside, really, because the point of this documentary was obvious, and true. Marriage Equality have released a statement applauding the program for both showing the diversity of families in Ireland and also highlighting the lack of legal protections for these families. At the end of the day, that’s what matters.
Most people watching that show weren’t lesbians trying to have babies. But most of them will be able to recognise the innate injustice of denying a child rights to the people who provide and care for her on a day-to-day basis.
From the Marriage Equality statement, the group’s Chair, Grainne Healy, said:
We want to thank Darren Kennedy, the families involved and the team behind “Gay Daddy” for their initiative in highlighting the diversity of families in Ireland, and the challenges facing gay men who wish to become parents.
The reality – as this filmed showed – is that gay and lesbian couples are, and will continue to be, loving parents to their children. Unfortunately our current legislation has created a legal vacuum for these children, who have no legal relationship with their non-biological parent.”
Census figures released earlier this year showed 230 same-sex families in Ireland, though Marriage Equality believe this to be an under-estimate.
Marriage Equality’s 2010 report “Voices of Children” drew on personal testimony of young adult children with lesbian parents, and looked at how the lack of legal protection for themselves and their families affected their daily lives.
A key recommendation from the report was that the Irish Government must establish legal recognition of children in same-sex families, through appropriate amendments to adoption and guardianship laws, and the introduction of civil marriage rights for same sex couples.