Saturday, September 13, 2003

The Age - "Gay dads want baby to be straight" by Larry Schwartz

Lee Matthews wants the best for his infant son, Alexander. Among other things, he hopes the boy will grow up to be "straight".

"Being gay in today's society still has its challenges," he says. Being straight, he hopes, will give the boy "one less hurdle to jump".

The 34-year-old St Kilda business consultant knows what it is to jump hurdles. After years of failed attempts to gain access to IVF and commercial surrogacy in Australia, Mr Matthews and his partner, Tony Wood, 40, travelled to the US late last year to watch a surrogate mother give birth to their baby.

Interviewed yesterday at the Mount Buller ski resort, the couple, who have been together for 14 years, recalled their frustrations with legislation preventing adoption or access to commercial surrogacy in Victoria.

Weighing in at 2.8 kilograms, Alexander was born to surrogate mother Junoa after three years of frustration involving three surrogates, three egg donors and six IVF transfers.

Now, says Mr Wood, "we have the perfect child. Every parent probably says that. He's an absolute delight, just amazing and he's got the most wonderful nature."

The couple declined to discuss the expense. "For us to talk about costs cheapens the process," Mr Wood says.

They say they are mindful of the inevitable attention that will follow the screening on SBS later this month of a documentary on their experience. They agreed to do the film because they trusted film-maker Emma Crimmings, who was now a close friend, and in the hope that it would help educate those with reservations about a child raised in such circumstances.

Man-Made: The Story of Two Men and A Baby will continue a controversy highlighted by Prime Minister John Howard's recent comment that "if the same status is given in our society to gay unions as are given to traditional marriage we will weaken that bedrock institution".
'We believe our family is entitled to the same recognition as other families.'

Mr Matthews and Mr Wood found that even gay acquaintances raised objections when told of their plans. But the "unusual acceptance" from family friends and neighbours in recent months had been enlightening and enriching, Mr Wood said.

The issues of gay parenting and commercial surrogacy have polarised the community.

"There are a number of things that we are worried about," says Bill Muehlenberg, national vice-president of the Australian Family Association. "One is simply the commodification of children, the idea of baby-buying and all that goes with it."

Mr Muehlenberg said research showed that the best environment for a child was with a biological mother and father. "We may be placating the whims and fancies of adults, but too often the very real interests of children are being overlooked in the debate," he said.

But Dr Justin Oakley, director of the Monash Centre for Human Bioethics, said: "I don't see there's any particular problem with it and I think it's a shame that they (Mr Matthews and Mr Wood) have had to resort to such means in order to become parents."

"We believe we became parents for all the right reasons," Mr Matthews said. "Because we thought we could offer a nurturing, protective and supportive environment."

The couple said they had not ruled out having more children.

State and federal laws on surrogacy vary in Australia. State Attorney-General Rob Hulls has asked the Victorian Law Reform Commission to look into altruistic surrogacy as part of a broader inquiry.

Mr Matthews was surprised when his partner first suggested that they have a child and "just got clucky". Mr Wood says he proceeded only once it was clear they could afford the surrogacy program.

The couple yesterday said they were not necessarily advocating surrogacy, and that for many gay couples the costs would be prohibitive.

In the documentary, William Halms, of the Los Angeles surrogacy agency Growing Generations, says that costs are so high he calls his own three children born in the program "$75,000 babies". He says a first-time surrogate mother is paid $US20,000 ($A30,000). Egg donors receive about $5000.

The St Kilda couple have kept in regular contact with Junoa, who will visit Australia for Alexander's first birthday.

They said they were aware whose sperm had been used, but it was inappropriate to reveal this. They would try to ensure that Alexander came to understand the circumstances of his birth and that he had two fathers, but no mother.

A mother-of-two when she gave birth to Alexander, Junoa says in the documentary that she told her children, Joshua and Elise that "the baby in my tummy was Tony and Lee's".

Her husband, also Tony, had been concerned but she had reassured him that she "wanted to give somebody who really wanted children a chance to be a parent, because I think there's nothing better than parenting".

Man Made: The Story of Two Men and A Baby will be screened on SBS at 7.30pm on Tuesday, September 30.

The film-makers will be on hand to answer questions after a special screening at the Cinema Nova, in Carlton at 1pm on Sunday, September 28. The season begins at the Nova on October 16.

[Link: Original Article]

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