The study, entitled ‘Experiences of Fatherhood among Gay Men’ was presented at the Psychological Society of Ireland’s annual conference by Conn Dorai-Raj, a counselling psychologist who interviewed 12 gay fathers, six of whom were in couples, and seven of whom used surrogacy. They are representative of the 100 gay men living with children counted by the last census.
According to Dr Dorai-Raj, all the participants were “happy with their decision to have children this way, but there have been huge challenges for them.”
The study found that fathers with surrogate children have lived in fear because the lack of legislation allows the birth mother to retain primary parental rights.
“There’s been a constant fear that the child could be taken away from them,” Dr Dorai-Raj says. “If they do it locally, the mum who lives down the road can at any time say, ‘I want to raise the child,’ and she’s fully within her rights.
“Some of the couples whose children would be teenagers now, and used surrogacy in the early 2000’s, were told to keep their heads down, that the state could take the children from them at any time because there are no laws to protect them.”
While under Irish law the biological father of a surrogate child can be recognised, their male partner has no legal standing in relation to the child. Some of the participants in the study spoke of fears around medical emergencies where one parent has no legal rights.
“One man talked about bringing his teenage daughter to join a gym, where they wanted to go together once a week, and the forms needed to be signed by a legal guardian and he was not allowed to do that,” says Dr Dorai-Raj. “It’s a relatively innocuous example, but a number of the men made the point that if she had a medical emergency, he could not have legally signed off on her having an operation.”
A new government bill covering surrogacy proposes a legal process to allow the transfer of parentage from the birth mother. It also proposes a ban on commercial surrogacy or any arrangement in which the surrogate mother is compensated for her services beyond the reimbursement of medical expenses.
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