Liberal Homophobia at the Heart of Gay Surrogacy Fears

What people really mean when they say that gay men shouldn't use commercial surrogate mothers.

Guy Shilo
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Guy Shilo

In her article “Is surrogacy a right of gay male couples?,” Tal Niv raises arguments against the right of gay couples to use surrogacy services (Haaretz, January 21). The issue of surrogacy in general, particularly in backward countries, is indeed complicated – from a traditional, emotional, ideological and practical standpoint. But the arguments presented whenever the subject of surrogacy for gay men comes up reflect a problematic and incoherent viewpoint, and reflect liberal homophobia and/or fear of male parenthood.

First, Niv claims that commerce in genetic materials for the creation of an infant is not like commerce in other organs. It is surprising that those who oppose surrogacy for this reason are not opposed to commerce in male sperm for fertility treatments, as this commerce serves the rights of women to parenthood.

Despite the significant difference between a sperm donation and carrying a pregnancy, the logic on which the argument is based should be identical when it comes to genetic materials for creating infants.

Incidentally, it is interesting to note how the discourse relating to surrogacy is worded in terms of a danger to health, while the discourse relating to pregnancy in other cases (including the use of fertility treatments, some of which entail a risk to health) is worded in heroic terms.

Niv also claims that, in the case of men who use surrogates, there is a “real woman” carrying the pregnancy, and she entreats us “not to hide the woman away” in the name of the right to parenthood. The writer suggests other ways in which men can realize their parenthood, such as finding a (noncommercial) female partner for parenting.

Most of the parents of infants born via surrogacy who are currently waiting in Thailand are heterosexual (Israel has refused to issue the infants born to Thai surrogates with Israeli passports, forcing the parents to stay in Thailand until a solution is found).

Yet Niv’s criticism is directed against surrogacy for gays. To the extent that her arguments against surrogacy are sincere, the suggestion not to “hide away” the surrogate mother should be heard in relation to any couple (regardless of the parents’ sexual leanings).

Despite that, we have yet to hear that heterosexual couples using surrogacy or an egg and/or sperm donation are being advised to add a third party to the relationship, in the guise of a woman who will join the couple and be an “additional parent.” Nor do we hear any demand that single mothers using a sperm donation should exercise “shared parenthood” with a living, breathing and present man.

The ease with which gay men (both single and couples) are advised to link up with a woman for the purpose of shared parenthood occasionally reflects homophobic views in their liberal form. Such views ostensibly recognize the rights of sexual minorities, but at the same time these rights are considered secondary to the rights of the general public.

The prevalent wording is: Yes to equal rights – but not full equality. And in the case of surrogacy: Yes to parenthood – but only parenthood with a woman. And in terms of the legal situation in the context of adoption in Israel: Yes to adoption by male couples – but of lower priority (than adoption by heterosexual couples). And yes to the rights of same-sex couples – but not marriage.

Sometimes, these views also reflect fear of male parenthood in general. Those who oppose surrogacy are directing their barbs against those who choose to be parents without a woman/mother, and this may be a fear that society – God forbid – discovers that male parenthood can be successful, and is just as good as that of motherhood (as dozens of studies prove).

These views opposing surrogacy for male gays join other opinions that have been heard lately regarding the “superiority” of women when it comes to parenting (for example, in the discussion over eliminating male custody for preschool children), and reflects a fear that rights to which male parents are eligible will undermine the “superiority” of motherhood.

Dr. Shilo is a researcher in the School of Social Work at Tel Aviv University.

Surrogate mothers.Credit: Reuters

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