Family Planning: Options for LGBTQ Couples by Jonathan Lucero McKinney
With over 114,000 samesex couples raising children around the U.S., our desire to become parents and build a family around love and equality has never been more accepted than it is today. Descrimination on this front has been a long fought battle, and there still exists legislation that may prevent you and your partner from sharing a child to love and raise as your own. Marriage equality – check! Family planning – check minus? Let’s discuss why.
To review the obvious, LGBTQ couples make pretty fabulous parents. The National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study is the longest known study following children of LGBTQ couples. It published results in the New England Journal of Medicine stating that children raised entirely by same-sex female couples have outcomes no different from children raised by male-female couples. These children, now in their mid-20’s, scored the same compared to children reared by male-female couples on metrics of social functioning, mental health, education and job performance, and virtually all measurable life outcomes. Another study by the University of Kentucky published in Developmental Psychology (2016) followed same-sex male, same-sex female, and male-female couples which concluded the same results: children raised in an abundance of love and support perform well, independent of their parent’s sexual orientation. As Cornell University cites in its research on public policy, there is an overwhelming scholarly consensus that having gay or lesbian parents does not harm children.
In the beginning of 2019, FamilyEquity. org stated that 63% of LGBTQ millenials expect to become parents and have children. The most common methods are assisted reproductive technology and adoption. Let’s break each of these down and identify tips to help you plan for parenthood.
Assisted Reproductive Technology
Sperm. Egg. Womb. Fundamentally, these three components are needed to make a baby, and a couple can decide to modify literally every component, depending on the biology of the couple. Whatever your couple’s biology, you’ll need to figure out which permutation of sperm, egg, and womb is right for you.
Sperm. You’ll need to decide who donates the sperm. Regardless if it’s just one partner, both partners, or an anonymous donor, the sperm will be analyzed for its ability to make a baby. You can even decide to have the sperm genetically tested for many inherited diseases.
Denise Crooks, a bisexual/queer woman living with her wife in Rhode Island, decided to use donor sperm for intrauterine insemination. A month after getting married in 2011, the two eagerly planned to grow their family. Today, the couple have a seven-year-old son and a one-year-old daughter. The cheek-pinching cuteness of their kiddos is unmeasurable, just like the love Denise and her wife share to make this family possible.
Egg. Same goes for the egg. If your partnership has two people with an egg, you may need to decide whose egg will be used. Denise’s pregnancy used her egg. Just like the sperm, eggs are screened for viability to create a baby. You can source the egg from egg banks, known egg-donors, or use your own – that is, if you happen to have them.
Womb. Who will carry the child through gestation? If your relationship has a womb, AKA a uterus, is that partner willing to experience pregnancy? Denise wanted to carry the children, so she opted to be the one with the baby bump. Or, especially for male couples, who will you enlist as a surrogate? Will it be a friend you know, or a stranger you contract with who is willing to help you bring life into this world?
When you break it down to three components, it can seem less complicated. But there are medical, legal, and financial issues to consider. LGBTQ couples must decide who will be genetically related to the child. While a family is not defined through genetic similarity, but rather by a shared love among its members, it still raises some concern for prospective parents. Some couples have opted for one partner donating the egg or sperm, and getting a close family member from the other partner to contribute the missing piece of the puzzle. In this scenario, there is genetic information connecting both partners to the baby.
Another critical point is legal issues. Some states do not recognize surrogate contracts in a court of law. It is crucial that you consult with surrogacy professionals and an attorney who is familiar with laws in your state. The National LGBT Health Education Center estimates that the process of assisted reproductive technology can cost upwards of $120,000 depending on your permutation of sperm, egg, and womb. That’s a lot of dough to put a bun in the oven! It’s important to plan for these costs. Denise, speaking about her intrauterine insemination, commented “...each round was about $1,000 altogether, through the alternative insemination program at Fenway Community Health Center.”
Healthcare.gov states that the same health insurance coverage offered to married opposite-sex couples must be offered to married LGBTQ couples. There should be no discrimination in coverage as long as the couple is legally married, but still, not all insurance companies are required to cover fertility or assisted reproductive technologies. Denise’s health insurance would not cover the cost of intrauterine insemination, because they did not consider the couple infertile, according to medical definition. She would need to try 12-months of inseminations before any coverage would kick in.
Call your insurance company and see what services they cover. For example, Starbucks employees have expanded fertility coverage, maximum reimbursements, and equal coverage for LGBTQ couples. If your coverage does not include these benefits, you may need to turn to other programs for financial help. Tax benefits from various inclusive programs or a flexible health savings account could help fund your baby-making process. The administrator of your benefits at work can answer questions about what is offered.
Notably, parentage laws in Rhode Island are about 40 years old, and currently do not recognize legal rights to surrogate parents or parentage for children through assisted reproductive technologies. This means that in the eyes of our antiquated laws, your child may not be YOUR child. LGBTQ parents become forced into a costly and lengthy adoption process to legally secure parentage. Denise and her wife face this exact dilemma. Using an anonymous sperm donor meant there would be no risk of that person having any legal claim to the child, but currently only Denise has full parental rights to their children. Her wife, although on the birth certificates for both children, does not have full parentage. They would need to go through a second parent adoption. “We haven’t done that yet. It is a burdensome, invasive, expensive process in Rhode Island that involves a home study by DCYF, an extensive packet of intrusive questions, and parents have been required to place an ad in the paper for the anonymous sperm donor to have the opportunity to step forward and assert a claim on your own child,” says Denise.
Legislation in the form of the Rhode Island Parentage Act (RIPA), passed in the Senate last year, seeks to fill the legal holes which many LGBTQ couples are falling into, like Denise and her wife. The couple worked with an especially bold coalition of LGBTQ parents, called RIPE (Rhode Islanders for Parentage Equality), who are diligently working to pass RIPA and protect all families. It’s currently held up in the House Judiciary Committee and advocates believe this will be addressed this year. Visit Glad. org/rhode-islanders-for-parentage-equality for some amazing stories and to learn about the local resources available to you.
Fostering and Adoption
Adoption is a legal process that grants adoptive parents permanent parental rights over a child, and severs parental rights from the birth parents. Fostering is a different concept, where legal guardianship is not granted to the foster parents, but they still hold responsibility for the wellbeing of the children. Adoption laws vary widely from state to state, and there are still states that reserve the right to deny adoption rights based on the parents’ sexual orientation. (Insert red-angry-face emoji here.) A public adoption in the U.S can be extremely affordable for LGBTQ couples, yet international private adoption agencies can run upwards of $50,000. Just over a fifth of all LGBTQ couples with children have chosen the adoption route, making us significantly more likely to adopt children than opposite-sex couples.
Michael Leighton and Marc Fernandes decided to become foster parents after realizing that something was missing in their family. They had so much more love to give, and they wanted to start growing their family. They signed up for some courses, became licensed foster parents, and then they waited. Michael states, “A few months went by, we contacted Family Service of Rhode Island, and we’re so thankful that we did.”
They describe the detailed adoption questionnaire and the financial strain that this process can incur, but in the end, it was totally worth it. “We will never forget that April day when we received a telephone call from Family Service of Rhode Island. They told us they had two children, a 9-month-old girl and a 22-month-old boy, ready for foster care. [They asked] if we would be interested in reading their file.” With much joy and surprise, Michael and Marc would meet and become official foster parents to siblings Zendaiya and Jaydais the next day. The couple is grateful to the Department of Children, Youth and Families, and especially for Family Service of Rhode Island for making the process a smooth one.
Michael and Marc fostered for two years, and many everyday struggles occurred, just like in any family. Their relationship was tested and they note, “At times it was a nightmare, but we stuck it out – that is what families do.” The interracial family got sideways glances from other families, and outright bewilderment of why the two men would want kids in the first place. There was even an incident at a restaurant where another family asked to sit in a different location because Michael and Marc’s family was making them uncomfortable. They comment, “The one constant that kept us strong were these two little children who had been entrusted to our care.” These guys handled any adversity that came their way with grace.
A new chapter began for their family when a court decision was made to begin the process of an open legal adoption. Today, their family is four members strong, with Zendaiya, who is in love with gymnastics and ballet, and Jaydais who enjoys reading and challenges anyone to a game on his Nintendo. They are nurtured by two married men whose lives “have been blessed beyond words.” That is clear when you look at a picture of this adorable family.
To summarize: LGBTQ couples want the same access to family planning that opposite-sex couples have. Due to the nature of how baby-making works, there is often a fundamental missing piece in LGBTQ couples who want to grow their family. Thankfully modern technology and growing adoption resources have given us more options than we’ve ever had, but it’s clear that there is still work to be done. RIPE is working towards equality, and they serve as a testament that we all need to speak up for equality with our local government. Use their website as a launching pad and resource to plan for your own family. Parentage is a right that we all have, and if that is your wish, don’t let it be squandered because of a few hurdles.