How Redefining Marriage Redefines Parenthood

12.01.2010, 11:17 PM

Last night I was editing a chapter that will appear sometime in the future in a scholarly volume. Because of word limitations I had to cut some material. I’ve retrieved from the cutting room floor one brief section, below, that I’d like to see the light of day. Interested in reactions!

How Redefining Marriage Redefines Parenthood–Links Between Legalizing Same-Sex Marriage and the Mainstreaming of ARTs

There are affirmative, early reports that use of third party donors (that is, sperm and egg donors, the latter sometimes combined with “gestational” surrogates) to conceive children does appear to be increasing in jurisdictions that have recognized same-sex marriage or similar arrangements, as couples with new legal protections now seek assistance from fertility clinics to achieve pregnancies.

A report out of Britain in 2007 claimed that “Lesbians and single women in Britain are increasing their share of donor insemination, accounting for 38% of such treatment last year compared with 28% in 2003 and 18% in 1999.”[i] What is especially noteworthy is that this trend, if the numbers are verifiable, was occurring before 2008. For decades, even after civil partnerships were legalized in Britain in 2004, British fertility law has said that the child’s “need for a father” must be taken into account when offering fertility treatments. Despite that clause, rates of lesbian and single women inseminated by clinics have been rising. In May 2008, after a long and heated national debate, the fertility treatment authority dropped the “need for a father” clause, removing the last policy barrier for lesbians and single women to access donor insemination services in the nation’s clinics.[ii] 

In Massachusetts, a news report from December 2007 read: “Since the legalization of same-sex marriage there has been a marked increase in the number of gay couples seeking assisted reproduction, a medical center specializing in in vitro fertilization said Friday. ‘Each year we’re seeing an annual increase of about 50 percent in the number of same-sex couples coming to us for IVF to have their children and build their families,’ said Dr. Samuel Pang, Medical Director of Reproductive Science Center of New England. RSC has eight locations throughout New England…and is the seventh largest medical practice of its kind nationwide. ‘I don’t know how much equal marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples has affected the upward shift, but it seems to be the trend over the last three or four years.”[iii]  

And in Denmark in 2006, their parliament passed a law allowing lesbian couples and single women the right to obtain free artificial insemination at publicly funded hospitals. Mikael Boe Larsen, chairman of the Danish National Association for Gays and Lesbians, said “…people are almost euphoric, people are crying, and especially the lesbians are extremely happy since it is a governmental approval of their family form.”[iv]  Denmark passed a law in 1989 allowing gays and lesbians to enter registered partnerships.

In other nations, too, there is evidence that marriage rights and rights to ARTs are seen to go hand in hand. In Victoria, Australia in 2005, the Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby released a survey of 652 gay and lesbians persons which revealed, among other things, that 98 percent of those surveyed wanted same-sex marriage to be made legal in their nation, and that more than 90 percent felt that gay and lesbian couples “should have access to assisted reproductive technologies such as clinical insemination of donor sperm and IVF.” Moreover, the survey revealed that “77 percent supported altruistic surrogacy as a right.”[v] 

In Norway, in the new law affirming the right to same-sex marriage, passed in 2008, there is also affirmation of the right for lesbian women to have access to artificial insemination.[vi]

In nation after nation, the right to marriage is interpreted also as a right to access reproductive technologies that deny children a relationship with one or more of their biological parents, often but not always their father. And once that right is guaranteed in law for gay and lesbian persons, it can hardly be denied, now or in the future, to heterosexual persons.

[i] Family Edge Weekly Newsletter 1 August 2007 number 115                    
[ii] In summer of 2008 the newly enacted law was tabled until the fall, so that further debate could be had, after a public outcry ensued over the law’s passage.
[iii] “Mass. Gay Marriages Lead to Increase in IVF,” Newscenter Staff, Dec 7, 2007,
[iv] “Insemination rights for lesbians,” Reuters, 2 June 2006, posted at   
[v] “Attacks on gays and lesbians ‘high’” Vic News, Aug 3, 2005,
[vi] The Associated Press notice which ran in the New York Times on June 18, 2008 read “Gay men and lesbians in Norway will be granted the same rights as heterosexuals to marry and to adopt children under a law approved by the upper house of Parliament. It replaces a 1993 law that gave gay men and lesbians the right to enter civil unions, but did not permit church weddings or adoption. The law also allows lesbians to have artificial insemination. Individual churches and clergy members may perform weddings for gay men and lesbians, but will not be legally obligated to do so.”

20 Responses to “How Redefining Marriage Redefines Parenthood”

  1. Wow, is the evidence linking equal marriage and increased use of ARTs weak.

    1) SSM is not legal in London, or anywhere in the UK. London is actually proof that the thesis is NOT true — as London clearly shows, the demand for ARTs by same-sex couples can increase without SSM.

    2) It’s not legitimate to just cite Massachusetts without comparing it to other states, because for all we know the use of ARTs by same-sex couples has also increased in gay-friendly states without SSM, like New York and California. In other words, where’s the control group? (Ditto for Denmark.)

    It’s especially striking since you completely reject mounds of MUCH stronger evidence than this when it indicates that the children of same-sex couples are, by and large, turning out as well as the kids of other couples.

    Regarding the post in general, I do think this is a probable direction for anti-SSM arguments to take in the future. Since anti-equality folks have, to put it mildly, utterly failed to show how any straight marriages are harmed by equality for same-sex couples, the next step is to find a new argument to support the old conclusion.

  2. rebecca says:

    Ditto what Barry said.

  3. Jeffrey says:

    Denmark and Australia don’t have same-sex marriage either. So essentially, it’s a quote from a single person in a single state that is bolstering the sweeping argument that same-sex marriage leads to redefined parenthood.

  4. Peter Hoh says:

    I’m pretty sure that we were going to see an increase in the use of ART by same sex couples — with or without same-sex marriage.

    I don’t understand how the increase in the use of ART by single women should somehow be attributed to the acceptance of same-sex couples. Maybe I’m misreading. Or maybe those who collect the data didn’t distinguish between lesbians who were coupled and single women.

    Yes, I expect that there’s been a recent spike in the use of ART by same-sex couples, however, I’d like some corresponding stats for the use of ART among hetero couples.

  5. kisarita says:

    Same sex couples themselves, teamed up with the ART industry, are actively attempting to redefine parenthood. It is explicit. Many advocacy events and publications show heartwarming photos of gay parents with their [partner's] child. Many lawsuits invoke the heterosexual marriage model to assert the gay partner’s parental status to the partner’s kid. I just commented on a blog in which the lesbian couple was bashing their sperm donor/ child’s father as a stalker simply for suing for visitation (he won) and you wouldn’t believe how much supportive comments they got. (Many financial benefits such as inheritance for example can be accomplished simply by writing a will). And parental rights is one of the few practical differences that can not be acheived outside of marriage.

    Redefinition of parenthood is not some statistic- it is part and parcel of gay activism. But ART in general lends itself and even preceded this movement, so you are right in the sense that the gay marriage movement can not be implicated ALONE in this development.

    I personally would be much more supportive of the gay marriage movement if they left the redefinign
    (although I think I will always find it laughable rather than solemn to see a woman dressed up in a tux for her commitment ceremony to her bride in flowing virgin white. sometimes i think its really just about imitating the mainstream heterosexual- gendered model.)

  6. damianhadams says:

    Wow, is the evidence linking equal marriage and increased use of ARTs weak.

    While I would agree that the evidence currently is not great, with the acceptance of SSM it allows for greater legal argument to push for access to treatment in places that do not allow treatment for same sex partnerships.
    This can be seen in the UN declaration of human rights. Which states that a man and woman have the right to marry and to found a family. If same sex couples are afforded the same right to marry then the argument can be made that they also have the right to found a family and therefore access to fertility treatment.
    This is not a statement for or against just pointing out one avenue of argument.
    If we look at the statement that there is evidence to suggest that those children of same sex couples are doing equally as well as those from traditional nuclear families, it would be equally as easy to point out evidence to suggest that those in the traditional nuclear families do better.

  7. [...] Marquardt writing at “In nation after nation, the right to marriage is interpreted also as a right to access [...]

  8. If we look at the statement that there is evidence to suggest that those children of same sex couples are doing equally as well as those from traditional nuclear families, it would be equally as easy to point out evidence to suggest that those in the traditional nuclear families do better.

    It’s actually pretty much impossible to make that case, if you’re using legitimate peer-reviewed evidence.

  9. Marty says:

    I’m sure there’s plenty of evidence that one-armed children “are doing equally as well as those with two arms”. So what? That hardly justifies amputating your own child’s arm just because you’re biased against lefties.

  10. kisarita says:

    that’s a pretty poor analogy. There’s nobody who’s claiming so.

  11. damianhadams says:

    Barry, lets look at education as an example.
    The following “peer reviewed” articles show that children raised in non-nuclear families don’t do as well as those from the traditional nuclear families.
    Astone, Nan Marie and Sara McLanahan. “Family Structure, Parental Practices, and High School Completion.” American Sociological Review. (June) 56: 309-320.
    Downey, D.B. (1995). Understanding academic achievement among children in step-households: The role of parental resources, sex of parent and sex of child. Social Forces, 73, 875-894.
    Ginther, Donna K. Pollak, Robert A.,
    Family Structure and Children’s Educational Outcomes: Blended Families, Stylized Facts, and Descriptive Regressions
    Demography – Volume 41, Number 4, November 2004, pp. 671-696
    So, just because you haven’t read some, doesn’t mean that peer reviewed articles going against what you said don’t exist – you just haven’t looked very hard. Or perhaps you are suggesting that journals such as these aren’t legitimate?

  12. Tristian says:

    While it would take a lot more than the evidence offered to make the case that SSM leads to a redefinition of marriage, what seems clear is that we’re seeing such a redefinition unfold. As always though, it’s the heterosexual world that’s driving the process. Given that heterosexuals make up the vast majority of the population, this is no surprise. In any case, rather than blaming gays for increased use of ARTs, it’s clearly more accurate to present this as an example of gays and lesbians wanting to do what straight people are already doing. If a single straight woman can use ART to have a child, why shouldn’t a lesbian in a committed relationship be able to? Those who are opposed to ART tout court should make the argument without mentioning sexual orientation–make the case that only married people who will be biologically related to the kids should get to be parents and be done with it. SSM is just a red herring here.

  13. Damian, you’re like someone who wants to prove that apples are more nutritious than oranges, but who tries to prove the point by citing three studies comparing apples to bananas. You could cite a hundred studies showing that apples are more nutritious than bananas; it still doesn’t prove a thing about oranges. And it raises the question, why are you avoiding looking at studies that actually do compare apples and oranges?

    None of the studies you cite compare two-parent, opposite-sex parent households to two-parent, same-sex parent households. So they’re simply irrelevant. As you probably already know, virtually all the peer-reviewed studies which make the relevant comparison find virtually no difference in outcome between opposite-sex parents and same-sex parents.

    (Incidentally, the third study you appears to come to the opposite conclusion from what you claim. According to the abstract, the data at first appears to show a great deal of difference, but then: “When controls for other variables are introduced, the relationship between family structure and children’s educational outcomes weakens substantially and is often statistically insignificant.”)

  14. Tom says:

    Do any of the studies you know about Barry look into the effects on adulthood, which is where we stranger-conceived people (anecdotally) know that the problems show themselves with greatest force, especially at the time of parenthood.

  15. Tom: The oldest children in any of the samples I’m aware of are 18 or 19 years old.

    Presumably, as time goes on, studies with older samples will eventually become available.

  16. damianhadams says:

    Barry I think that you are missing my point. That there is evidence to show the contrary. And yes I didn’t reread that third paper as it was a long time ago that I read it, I just grabbed a couple of references that dealt with the issue of nuclear versus non-nuclear – but that just further highlights my point that just as there are studies saying non-nuclear are good there are those that state non-nuclear are less good. Which was what I was trying to show when you threw out your blanket comment about there not being any legitimate peer reviewed articles. Mind you it is interesting that we see a similar trend in the donor conception community in regard to how children are faring, however, when they become adults there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that some (not all) aren’t doing so well. Will we see the same in the SS raising community, I would say so because it is the same factors involved. It is not a question of the sexual orientation of the raising parents.
    Not sure where you are going with the apples and oranges debate but I assume you are using that because I didn’t cite a SS relationship study. While I know that that is what the original post and thread is about, for me that is not an issue as the argument is more of a nuclear versus non-nuclear one (biological versus non-biological one), an issue of access to ones biological heritage, identity and family health issues. And that doesn’t change regardless of the sexual orientation of the commissioning couple when accessing ART.

  17. Marty says:

    kisarita, maybe, but there’s no shortage of people cutting off a child from his father, for no better reason than their bias against men.

  18. Ampersand says:

    Not sure where you are going with the apples and oranges debate but I assume you are using that because I didn’t cite a SS relationship study. While I know that that is what the original post and thread is about, for me that is not an issue as the argument is more of a nuclear versus non-nuclear one…

    Damian, the social science doesn’t support the idea that there are only two kinds of families, nuclear bio families and all other types of families. There are differences between different non-pure-bio families, and pretending those differences don’t exist is both bad logic and bad science.

  19. damianhadams says:

    Ampersand, I never said that there were only 2 different kinds of families, nor do I pretend that they don’t exist (I was raised in two of these other family groups so I am well aware of their existence). However, when we look at children created and placed into a family whereby there is one or both genetic parents are absent, then the factors that can influence this child as we see in donor conception are the same irrespective of whether the raising parents are same-sex, step-parent, single parent etc.