Starting a family is often straightforward for heterosexual couples, but it can be far more complicated for same-sex couples. Inspired by our young, gay dads Adam and Harvey, we’ve put together some up-to-date information on the laws and options open to gay and lesbian couples in the UK.
The law (UK only)
The good news – it’s got easier for same-sex couples to have a child, and for both partners to be recognised as the child’s parent.
Laws and regulations regarding this right have changed dramatically this century. These new updates and laws have allowed both parties in an LGBT couple to be legally recognised as parents. This impacts parenthood for LGBT couples in a number of ways – for example, couples can adopt children and receive the same legal rights as heterosexual couples.
In Harvey & Adam’s situation, for example, their child is carried by a surrogate. In a none-surrogacy situation, both the woman and Harvey are legally the parents. In a surrogacy situation, however, once the baby is born and the paperwork completed, the surrogate is no longer the baby’s parent, and both Harvey and Adam are now the baby’s legal parents. This would not have been possible without changes to the law.
An important Act
The Human Fertility and Embryo Act of 2008 concluded that LGBT couples could have children through fertility treatments, and be recognised as the legal parents of the children. This means that children can be conceived using IVF and donor eggs and sperm. These laws did not entirely prevent discrimination, but they did open up parenthood for same-sex couples in an important way.
Public opinion and marriage
In 2013 in England and Wales and 2014 in Scotland, same-sex marriage was legalised. This led to an increase in same-sex couples becoming parents. Although a gay or lesbian couple does not need to be married in order to be legally recognised as parents, the recognition of gay and lesbian relationships as being equal to heterosexual relationships has led to greater confidence and acceptance in many aspects of life as a same-sex couple.
Legalising same-sex marriage shifted attitudes amongst the population, leading to more acceptance and less discrimination. More information and support is now available to those looking to become parents. These positive changes now mean that there are many different treatments and options available.
One of the options open to LGBT couples is surrogacy. Surrogacy is when a gestational carrier (sometimes known as a Surrogate Mother) is pregnant with and gives birth to a baby for a couple or another person. The gestational carrier signs over their legal right to be the baby’s parent, to the individual or couple.
How does the gestational carrier (surrogate mother) become pregnant?
There are a number of ways that the gestational carrier can become pregnant. It is rare for the intended father to have intercourse with the gestational carrier in order to produce a pregnancy. Gestational carriers tend not to have a romantic or sexual partnership with the intended father.
Surrogate mothers have got pregnant by manually inserting sperm from the intended father. This is completely legal and has been used by intended parents and potential gestational carriers who know and trust each other. For example, the sister of a gay man might offer to carry the man’s partner’s baby and may choose to use a manual rather than a medical method of becoming pregnant. She would then agree to both men becoming the baby’s parents.
The modern way of approaching surrogacy is to use medical means to produce the pregnancy. The gestational carrier becomes pregnant through intrauterine fertilisation, which uses donor eggs and sperm, which are then placed in the surrogate mother’s womb. This method is more expensive than the manual method, but it can be less risky and more precise, and some gestational carriers will only consider becoming pregnant by medical means.
What do IVF and IUI mean?
IVF means In Vitro Fertilisation, and IUI means Intrauterine Fertilisation. These are two medically assisted ways for sperm to join with the egg and produce a pregnancy.
IUI is when the sperm is injected into the womb, in order for it to naturally penetrate the egg. This is considered a more “natural” process than IVF, in which embryos are manually selected, and then placed in the womb.
Is the baby related to the mother?
If the baby was conceived using both donor eggs and sperm, then the gestational carrier is not related to the baby. If the gestational carrier has used her own eggs, then genetically she is the mother of the baby.
Is the surrogacy agreement legally binding?
Surrogacy agreements can not be enforced by law in the UK; all participants can however write a contract detailing how they would like the process to occur. Upon the birth of the child, the surrogate has to transfer parental rights by adoption or parental order to the couple.
Is it legal to pay a surrogate, or to receive money from being a gestational carrier?
Paid surrogacy or surrogacy for purely financial gain is illegal in the UK. Independent surrogacy is often practised between close friends or family members, for no financial gain. Reasonable expenses are allowed to be covered, such as time off work, medical bills etc for the surrogate.
Surrogacy is rising in popularity amongst male couples. Adam and Harvey, who are featured on our website, detail their journey to parenthood via independent surrogacy.
Donor insemination by itself is more popular among lesbian couples and single women when one of the couple is able to become pregnant.
More generally, donor insemination means using donated eggs, donated sperm or both, in order to conceive. Donor insemination means that the person who is going to carry the baby is manually inseminated (if performed at home), or they receive intrauterine insemination (if performed at a fertility clinic).
How is the sperm obtained?
It is illegal in the UK to pay a sperm donor, so the donor must either be a close friend or an anonymous donor from a clinic. Insemination can happen at home, however, it is highly recommended to complete this process through a fertility clinic, in order to make sure the sperm is healthy and does not pose any risks to the mother or fetus.
While this type of insemination can be seen as “simple” compared to surrogacy and other options, there are health risks involved, and it is important to track fertility accurately in order to determine the best time for insemination. Our Desperately Seeking Sperm Diary is one single woman’s account of trying to get pregnant via anonymous donor sperm.
How does the law work for this process?
Adam and Harvey went through a fertility clinic in order to be donors for their friends, who were in a lesbian civil partnership. Married or civil partnership lesbian couples will both be considered the legal birth parents of the child at the time of conception. For non-civil partnerships, the birth mother is the parent and the other parent will have to legally adopt the child. Egg donor insemination must be performed at a fertility clinic as this involves intrauterine insemination.
While IVF is mentioned as an important part of other methods of becoming a parent, it’s worth explaining the process in more detail.
IVF is a process by which eggs and sperm are collected and fertilised in a lab. After a few days, several embryos are collected and put into the womb.
I heard IVF makes you have twins or triplets?
The collection of several embryos can mean multiple births are common. Donor sperm or eggs can be used.
Who uses IVF?
This option by itself is suitable for same-sex female couples struggling to conceive due to fertility issues. However, IVF is used by all kinds of people, from surrogates to heterosexual couples struggling to conceive.
Is IVF better than doing it manually?
IVF’s advantage is that it is statistically more successful than intrauterine fertilisation and artificial insemination. On the other hand, it is more expensive and can take multiple cycles for success.
Can I get funding for IVF? How do I make it more affordable?
It is possible to receive IVF treatment on the NHS if certain conditions are met, which include age and whether either partner has had children before. The downside of receiving NHS treatment can be the waiting times, plus the availability of the treatment in some areas. It really can be a “postcode lottery”.
Some couples opt to go abroad for IVF treatment due to cheaper prices and shorter waiting times. However, some countries still do not offer IVF for same-sex couples. One popular destination for IVF treatment for gay couples is Cyprus. Turkey is a popular destination for heterosexual couples, but they are tightly regulated, and completely exclude gay partnerships from treatment. It’s worth checking out the legal situation carefully if you are thinking of receiving treatment abroad.
One thing to keep in mind is that success rates advertised abroad are calculated differently, and may be misleading. Careful research is needed for this option.
Do you really need counselling if you’re having IVF?
The cliche of the anxious heterosexual woman undergoing IVF after years of trying to conceive, and needing counselling while undergoing IVF, may lead some lesbians to believe that they don’t require that part of the procedure. The truth is though, that it is important to go through counselling whilst going through IVF as it is a time extensive, invasive and expensive procedure, with the average treatment costing up to £10,000 on average sometimes for unsuccessful results. IVF can be deeply stressful and life-changing, even for people without fertility issues, and even when it is successful.
You may be slightly annoyed at hearing “Why don’t you just adopt?” in response to your desire as a gay person, to have a child of your own. While this is often well-meant, adoption is as difficult a process as any of the paths to parenthood for gay individuals and couples. Adoptive children are not a consolation prize for those who can’t have a baby via other means. Adoption can be the perfect solution for individuals who want to be parents and children who need a loving family. However, this decision needs as much thought and enthusiasm as surrogacy, donor insemination and IVF.
Will I be able to adopt a newborn baby?
There are lots of types of adoptive children, from the severely disabled, older teenagers, newborn babies, multiple siblings of different ages, and even terminally ill children. While it is possible to adopt a newborn baby, there are many children waiting for adoption. While a young baby might be the ideal adoption candidate, it’s important to explore all of the options with the professionals involved in the adoption process.
What’s my legal standing as a gay, adoptive parent?
The good news is that since 2002, same-sex couples in the UK have been able to adopt and receive the same legal rights as heterosexual couples.
How do I begin the process?
Adoption is completed through an adoption agency or local authority. To adopt a child you must be 21 and over, and of a fixed UK address. An assessment is carried out before the adoption process begins, however, private adoption agencies may have different criteria. You can begin this process by contacting either a private adoption agency or your local authority.
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