"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Monday, February 4, 2013

Gay Marriage - Do Two Mothers Equal One Father?

In an article in Le Monde (2.4.13) Sylvia Agacinski writes about gay parentage and raises various moral, social, and legal issues. Is a child ‘born’ to a gay couple through sperm donation or surrogate motherhood no different from a naturally born child of heterosexual, married parents? And how does adoption differ from artificial birth?

The issue of surrogate motherhood has always been troubling because it commercializes childbirth.  For childless couples who desperately want a baby, one born to a surrogate mother is considered a godsend.  However, looked at more dispassionately the conception and bearing of a child within an external, commercial, and contractual arrangement is troubling.  Only a woman in severely straitened financial circumstances would even consider nine months of hormonal disruption, physiological and psychological stress, physical discomfort and risk for money.  If there is anything to the traditional notion that a mother has a natural, biological and emotional bond to her children, borne of her pregnancy, snatching her newborn from her at the moment of birth with only a few dollars recompense, seems like slavery.  It is the worst and most frightening case of the rich exploiting the poor.

Nonsense, say those for whom the market reigns supreme.  All human interactions are economic contracts. Human beings negotiate for power, dominance, reward, and gratification in every situation.  Love, as Shakespeare has amply illustrated, does not exist in a world of courtly marriages, accession, and primogeniture.  O’Neill, Albee, Williams, and Miller have again and again viewed marriage and family as economic units first, as crucibles for individual maturity second, and as happy love units a distant, dim, and even fictitious chimera.

What about anonymous sperm and egg donors, then? Is this alternate procreative reality any less ethically and morally suspect? And does the anonymous selection process compound the dilemma of surrogate motherhood?  There is something off about a gay male couple purchasing a Harvard ovum, fertilizing it with sperm from one of the partners, purchasing the services of a surrogate mother, then raising it as their own.  As Agacinski writes, what about the child?  He/she has no lineage to trace and is deprived of a past.  Even adopted children who do not know their biological mothers and fathers can at least discover their origins and fit themselves into some kind of genealogical history.

Agacinski quotes Claude Levi-Strauss:

“Biological ties are the model on which kinship is based (les liens biologiques sont le modèle sur lequel sont conçues les relations de parenté").

This model is neither logical nor mathematical, Levi-Strauss writes, but biological and qualitative because the two are not interchangeable.  That is the only reason for which parents are two, or form a couple

"Ce modèle n'est ni logique ni mathématique (du type : 1+1), mais biologique et donc qualitatif (femme + homme) parce que les deux ne sont pas interchangeables. C'est la seule raison pour laquelle les parents sont deux, ou forment un couple.

While parentage is far less important today than it was in the Elizabethan court, it still is a foundation for society.  The philosopher Hans Jonas sees the responsibility of parents to children as the archetype of responsibility (“Le philosophe Hans Jonas regardait la responsabilité des êtres humains à l'égard de leur progéniture comme l'archétype de la responsabilité”).  Biological parents have a far greater degree of investment in their children than non-biological ones, especially those who have reached far into the alternate universe of donors and surrogate mothers for offspring.  Similarly, children have a great investment in their parents, for they are the closest and first step to a long and important genealogical history. The anonymity of DNA donation is profoundly disruptive to the centrality and primacy of the biological family.

Many gay and lesbian couples are looking for ways to make the procreation of an offspring more ‘natural’.  As committed as they are to their modern lifestyle, they still place considerable stock in traditional parenthood.  I know of one such lesbian couple who have approached the brother of one of them to contribute his sperm; for in that way, the child would at least have some genetic family history. While similar cases for gay couples would be extremely rare (it would take one very dedicated, loving, and understanding sister to go through nine months of pregnancy for her brother and lover), I am sure they exist.

Ironically gay and lesbian couples go out of their way to exploit the heterosexual world for offspring and therefore acknowledge heterosexual inevitability.  In so doing they undermine their own strong case for a legally contracted marriage.  If homosexuality is a viable, respectable, social and emotional expression of partnership but unique and distinct from heterosexuality-  then childlessness might be its highest and most complete expression.

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