Our son turned eighteen. Because of the corona crisis, there wasn’t much of a celebration, but he seems to like the idea of being an adult. However, his joy is nothing compared to ours, his parents. The fact that we were able to help a son grow up can be called a small miracle. If I had been born twenty years earlier or in another country, I would never have become a father.
Even now, a lot of people are surprised when my husband and I show up somewhere with our son. A man-and-man couple with a child, it is still special. It is not because Belgium has allowed same-sex couples to adopt for almost fifteen years that it is easy for two men to have a child (entrusted).
It used to be simple: if you were openly gay, you didn’t have children. Period. In the 1990s and 2000s, that began to change. LGBTI+ couples get legal recognition, are allowed to marry and later to adopt. Since then, adoption therefore seems to be the obvious choice for gay couples who want to become dads. Although it remains difficult.
Most male rainbow couples with a desire to have children choose a national program. However, the waiting time is long and the chances of success are not guaranteed. The Flemish Adoption Support Centre talks about a procedure that easily takes 7 to 9 years. The number of candidate adoptive parents who present themselves annually (150 to 200) is therefore much larger than the number of children (20 to 25) that need adoption each year.
If you want to adopt abroad, you have to show even more perseverance. According to the website of Kind&Gezin, South Africa is today the only country where Flemish man-couples might succeed in the near future. In the United States, Canada and Mexico it is theoretically possible, but apparently no organization can or wants to guide you as a gay couple through this process. In 2011, the Flemish Adoption Officer was already nominated for the homophobia prize because of the lack of progress regarding inter-country adoption by LGBT people and unfortunately now, 10 years later, we are still not one step further. It almost seems as if, for our adoption services, gay couples who want to adopt are the last of their worries. Consequently, there are hardly any examples of successful intercountry adoptions by two men.
End of story
Foreign adoption seems to be a finishing story anyway. The adoption associations themselves are usually opposed to adoption. They assume that children are better off growing up in their own countries and that we are better off putting money and energy into raising those children locally.
The sector also has to deal with scandals. In the Netherlands, an investigative committee found so many examples of child theft, child trafficking and corruption that it called for a halt to the adoption of children from abroad. And also in Flanders, an investigation has been set up in 2019 regarding adoption fraud involving children from Guatemala and Congo, among others.
The number of children being adopted in Belgium and its neighboring countries is therefore declining sharply. Yet, according to Unicef, at least 2.7 million children worldwide are still living in orphanages. Many of them will not receive the attention and care that every child is entitled to and would certainly benefit from a new loving family.
Our governments must guarantee that adoption fraud and child trafficking are excluded, because this cannot be left to the orphanages and the future parents themselves. So set up an efficient monitoring service or fund the adoption counseling services so that they can do the checks and balances thoroughly. But rather than invest in good control and guidance, we are abolishing the system step by step. If we were to work simultaneously on structural solutions in the countries of origin, I could accept that. Unfortunately, we look the other way, satisfied that we have laundered our souls. The weakest are again the victims.
When adoption is no longer an option, the desireful parents are pushed to other solutions. And because there are simply no 1001 ways to have children, man-man couples are increasingly turning to surrogacy.
This is not forbidden in Belgium but also not allowed. There is simply no legal regulation. And that creates legal uncertainty. For example, there are couples who used a foreign surrogate mother and had their child registered by the registrar without any problem. Other municipalities refuse to do that and first want a decision from the family court. In this case, you have to get lucky with the judge. Because since there is no legal regulation, it is in fact the family judge himself who makes the law. Except that even in 2021, not everyone is equally open to LGBTI+ relationships. So how can you be sure that a refusal is not due to the judge’s personal attitude towards two men with a child?
Many politicians don’t dare to have this discussion. The difficult ethical questions they have to answer are therefore numerous. Should the surrogate mother also be the legal mother of the child? Can the surrogate mother decide to keep the child even though she is not genetically related to it? How much can you pay a surrogate mother before it becomes human trafficking? Moreover, as professor and ethicist Guido Pennings (UGent) points out, it is impossible to foresee every situation.
However, just because you avoid a discussion does not mean it will disappear. On the contrary, there is a good chance that others will set the rules. For example, in early June 2021 you could visit the “Men Having Babies” baby fair for the sixth time. A fair where American and Canadian firms and hospitals offer their services to gay couples who dream of having a baby. According to their standards, of course. And so a baby quickly costs 150,000 dollars and you can choose the sex of your baby or specify requirements on the intelligence of the egg donor without any problem, as was revealed after an undercover visit by two journalists from Het Nieuwsblad. This alone seems to me to be worthy of a robust debate.
So it depends on how much money you have, which lawyer you can afford or which municipality you live in whether having your baby will be a smooth journey or an odyssey that lasts for years. An urgent appeal to our politicians: do not wait any longer but create a clear legal framework.
Laws on multi-parenting should also be written quickly. After all, more and more children are growing up in multi-parent families. Often newly composed families after a divorce in which mom and dad each have a new partner. But sometimes also a lesbian and a gay couple who made a child together and also raise it together. If those three or four people all want to give their love and care to those children, why should the law split them into “real” and “not real” parents? Because the baby is not biologically related to the plus dad or mom?
The law doesn’t really care: there is no DNA test required when you are going to declare your baby and with adoption there is no biological bond anyway. Moreover, increasingly there is a biological bond between all those parents and the baby. In lesbian couples, it is no exception that one woman carries the baby made from her partner’s egg and a donor’s sperm. If that donor is known and wants to play a role in the baby’s life, you have de facto three parents who each have a natural bond with the girl or boy. And there are already successful examples of babies being genetically related to 3 people.
Parent in every country
In doing so, we as an LGBTI+ community demand that the effects of these laws are respected across the EU. Ideally, of course, we would like same-sex couples to be able to marry, adopt children, etc. in all countries of the European Union. Unfortunately, we are not there yet. When we read reports about Hungary banning adoption by LGBTI+ people, the French senate continuing to ban IVF for single and lesbian women, and the Latvian parliament debating whether to put a ban on same-sex marriage in the constitution, we even have the impression that we are currently going backwards. The EU today apparently does not want or cannot force the member states to guarantee the rights of their LGBTI+ residents to the maximum despite all the nice declarations about LGBTI+ strategies they make.
The EU, if it is really serious about the free movement of citizens, should require that what is obtained in one member state is also respected elsewhere. Two women who are married should be treated like any other married couple throughout the EU. A child adopted by two men should officially have two dads everywhere, even if the family moves to Hungary, for example.
By the way, we are experiencing interesting times in this regard. Indeed, on Tuesday, February 9, 2021, the case of baby Sara came before the European Court of Justice. Sara was born in Spain and has two mothers: one Brexit-British, the other Bulgarian. According to EU rules, Sara should get Bulgarian papers. But Bulgaria sees this slightly differently: they believe that a child cannot have two mothers and refuse to register the baby with all the consequences.
We are looking forward to the ruling, which could well have major consequences for all European rainbow families. For ILGA-Europe, the umbrella organization of European LGBTI+ associations, it is clear: Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, must urgently live up to her statement “If you are a parent in one country, you are a parent in every country” (State of the Union, September 2020). That I expect our Belgian EU parliamentarians to join the pressure is obvious.
Rainbow families, surrogate mothers, multi-parent families… as a society and as politicians you can continue to oppose these kinds of ‘newfangled evolutions’ but actually we have already been overtaken by reality. Let’s debate it for the sake of the children and put an end to the unhealthy arbitrariness that too often prevails.
>> Please note that this is a machine generated translation. A more correct version is coming soon.