Same-sex marriage advocates argue that the recognition of homosexual unions as legal marriages will not lead to demands for children nor for the state to pay for these demands.
However it is a clear progression from allowing one to allowing and paying for the other.
Either marriage is “equal” or it is not. Sometimes it needs saying that the obvious difficulty for same-sex couples trying to have children is that they cannot!
Adoption aside, the children of gay couples come not from their union — a biological impossibility — but from the intervention of science and the process known as donor conception, involving a third party of the opposite sex.
If as few as 600 donor-conceived persons were born each year since the 1970s, there would be at least 20,000 donor-conceived persons currently living in Australia. Some estimates, according to a 2011 Senate report, suggest there may be as many as 60,000.
However, the number could be even higher, as not all donor conception takes place in fertility clinics and hence would not be included in the official statistics. For instance, homosexual couples, infertile heterosexual couples and single women may make private arrangements, such as using surrogate motherhood or arranging for a man to have physical relations with a lesbian for the sole purpose of conception, not social fatherhood.
When it comes to the raising of donor-conceived children, the 2011 Senate report has offered the following statistical summary: “In one clinic in Victoria, it is estimated that 60 per cent of clients are currently heterosexual couples, with about 20 per cent being single women and 20 per cent being same-sex couples, whereas another clinic has about a 33 per cent split for heterosexual couples, lesbian couples and single women (Donor Conception Practices in Australia, Senate committee report, February 2011, Section 1.11).
A High Court decision in 2000 (McBain vs Ors) gave women, regardless of their marital status, access to fertility treatment.
Before any regulation of the fertility industry, the practice of donor conception usually involved the anonymity of the donor and the child’s ignorance of his or her origins.
Regulation (self- or state-imposed), beginning in the late 1980s, has seen the introduction of a limit on the number of donations an individual can make, as well as, in some states, the introduction of a donor register.
The reason donations are limited is because of issues relating to consanguinity, such as the potential relationship of half-siblings with each other or with their donor.
The introduction of registers in some states and territories relates to donor-conceived children seeking the right to know their biological roots. Such regulation in the industry does not, however, make the practice of donor conception praiseworthy.
Neither registering details nor limiting donations takes away the potential for intense and far-reaching psychological trauma. The experience of numerous donor-conceived children abundantly confirms this.
The personal testimonies of donor-conceived children, together with important findings and resources on this subject, can be accessed through TangledWebs UK, a group established to promote the rights of donor-conceived people in the United Kingdom and across the world, at www.tangledwebs.org.uk/tw/.
Not knowing where one comes from “is like being lost in the middle of a great and featureless ocean”, writes Louise. Finding out who her biological father was gave her the “form and landmarks” necessary to make sense of her existence.
Louise describes the self-hatred, the obsessive-compulsive behaviours, the depression and the strains of continuing life after she discovered she was donor-conceived. Believing her social father to be her biological parent, Louise had been trying to force herself into a “false biological mould”. The discovery that this effort was futile helped, but could not alleviate, past sufferings, and only gave rise to different and more challenging mental conflicts.
Another donor-conceived person, Rel, writes of the twisting of language and the clash of values in relation to this issue. She speaks of how she finds the word “donor” offensive, because it does not correspond to the reality of the relationship.
Rel says, “[My biological father] may not have raised me, but he will always be my father. There is no denying it…. People are just trying to distort reality for their own satisfaction, for their own cause, for their own position.”
The donor-conception issue is intergenerational. Not only is a child denied knowledge of his or her origins, but any offspring of that child is denied the same rights — rights to the landmarks of identity, pertinent medical information, cultural heritage and a relationship with one or more grandparents.
Damian writes not so much of his own pain and sadness, but of his natural daughter’s. “My children will not be able to fill out family trees at school or know from which country they are descended. They will not know what inheritable diseases affect their father’s side. Even their name does not match the blood they have.”
Donor-conceived children are born not out of the loving union between a husband and wife, but by at least one dispassionate and uninterested individual, often for the selfish purposes of a couple who demand the “right” to have a child but who have little if any concern for the plight of the children being produced. Nobody had the right to a child any more than a man has a right to a woman.
Making it even more difficult for children is the fact that the same-sex marriage lobby is campaigning to replace the names of biological parents on their children’s birth certificates with the names of the custodial same-sex parents. This is completely contrary to the campaign by donor-conceived children to access the identities of their biological parents.
Three inquiries into the rights of donor-conceived children have been completed by the Commonwealth Senate, the New South Wales government and the Victorian Law Reform Commission.
In a society in which family can mean whatever you want, and the definition of gender, marriage, fertility and rights are all up for grabs, our knowledge of and empathy for donor-conceived children are vitally important.
Their voices need to be heard, especially in light of the ongoing same-sex marriage debate. The biggest stakeholder in all of this is the child.
As Louise says, “I have lived on the other side of this social and biological experimentation, and … what I have to report is more than mere opinion…. [It is] confirmation that the ancient landmarks — fatherhood, family, identity — are not unenlightened social constructs, but solid realities.”