UK Health Service to Pay for Lesbian Family’s In Vitro Conception

by Kilian Melloy
Friday Jul 24, 2009

A lesbian family in the UK has won the right to have their in vitro conception covered by the country's health program, but anti-gay critics have condemned the decision. As is often the case, the victory for gay and lesbian families is being attacked with arguments rooted in the failings of heterosexual families.

A July 19 article at UK newspaper The Times reported that new regulations governing who may receive health care for fertility issues stipulate only that prospective parents be capable of providing "supportive parenting."

Previously, lesbian families could be denied on the basis of a child's "need for a father."

That older requirement did not seem to apply to children living with mothers who had conceived without medical intervention or children of divorced parents living with their mothers. As such, it was viewed by same-sex couples, particularly lesbians, as discriminatory.

The couple involved in the case resorted to legal action, turning to attorney David Herbert, who was quoted in the article as saying, "Discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation is contrary to the Human Rights Act and the Equality Act."

Noted the attorney, "There is an element of conflict in the Human Fertilization and Embryology Act 1990 which requires clinics to consider a child's 'need for a father.'"

Herbert recounted, "This was used historically to justify denying treatment to same-sex couples.

"The 'need for a father' element is just about to be removed on the grounds that it is discriminatory. The assessment will be for 'supportive parenting,' which will come into force in October," Herbert added.

In the United States, the case grabbed the attention of anti-gay religious Web site LifeSiteNews, which noted in its posting that less than many heterosexual families needing medical intervention to conceive do not have access to health services that will provide the full recommended complement of three cycles of treatment.

While that may be a matter of funding at the local level and have little to do with discriminatory policies, LifeSiteNews went on to incorporate a list of family woes that have beset the UK's heterosexual population.

The article quoted Iain Duncan Smith, a conservative political figure, as saying, "Teenage pregnancy is on the increase, abortion is on the increase, family breakdown is at record levels and we have got a growing number of dysfunctional children that are the product of broken homes.

"The lesson seems to be loud and clear to me that fathers are required," Smith said.

The article also referred to a Swedish study that found that children do better with a father in the house.

However, such studies focus on families headed by heterosexual single mothers. The relevance of such studies to two-parent gay or lesbian families is disputed by advocates of family equality, who cite other studies, specific to gay and lesbian families, that indicate that children with two supportive same-sex parents do just as well as their peers from two-parent mixed-gender homes.

Anti-gay religious activists, such as officials in the Catholic church, however, reject the data from such studies. The church's leadership has made waves in the past by issuing declarations that same-sex parents harm their children simply by parenting them in a same-sex household; the church has also declared that gays and lesbians are "disordered" and cannot forge appropriate emotional bonds.

The church recently made headlines when it denounced a former priest's citation of studies showing that gay and lesbian two-parent homes foster children as fully and successfully as mixed-gender parents.

A July 20 article carried by the BBC News reported that, "The Roman Catholic Church has reacted angrily to comments endorsing gay parenthood from a charity with strong links to the Church."

The charity in question is Marriage Care, which provides marriage counseling and marriage preparation, and which receives church funds. The remarks in question were made by Terry Prendergast, a former priest who now is married, the BBC reported.

Prendergast, the article said, was addressing gay Catholics at a Quest conference that had convened in Leicester when he made his comments.

Prendergast not only defended gay and lesbian two-parent families, but broken heterosexual ones as well, noting that in each instance that families "suffered discrimination and denigration because they fell short of the Vatican's definition of what constituted a real family," the BBC article said.

Moreover, Prendergast said that Catholic gay and lesbian families should be celebrated by the church.

Prendergast reiterated what studies of gay families have shown: that two-parent families are indeed good for children... but they don't have to be limited to a man and a woman.

The "angry response" the BBC article cited came from The Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales, which relied on church doctrine rather than scientific study, condemning Prendergast's comments as being "inconsistent with Catholic teaching to plan or promote a notion of family from which [same sex parents].... are deliberately excluded."

The article noted that Archbishop Vincent Nichols, the leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, had previously been an anti-adoption equality advocate who had tried to arrange for exceptions to UK adoption law for Catholic organizations that would otherwise be requited to follow legal requirements and not discriminate against gay and lesbian prospective parents when placing needy children into adoptive homes.

In the United States, the church has seen similar organizations stop placing children in need of adoptive families, rather than allow children in need of good homes to go to gay and lesbian adoptive parents.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


  • BB, 2009-07-26 09:00:27

    As is ever the case, this author cannot get through even a first paragraph without injecting his opinion. Do you think we might have a better newspaper if we took up a collection to send Killian Melloy to J-school in the hopes he might learn how to write news stories?

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