Wednesday, September 2, 2009

SX - “Hey dads!” by Peter Hackney and Ron Hughes

Commercial surrogacy, gay adoption - the modern brood is ever-evolving. But the rewards of family always remains the same. On the eve of Father’s Day, two same-sex couples share withSX the joys, and the challenges, of fatherhood.


Pictured: Rodney (left) with partner Jeff and son Ethan (centre).

Many Dads become fathers by accident. Not Rodney Chiang-Cruise. Chiang-Cruise, 43, planned his fatherhood to the nth degree, with his partner Jeff. The couple’s child, Ethan, was born two-and-a-half years ago via an egg donor and a commercial surrogate in the USA .

“That’s where I think there’s a significant difference between children with gay parents and kids with straight parents,” Chiang-Cruise tells SX. “It’s not unusual for a child who’s the product of a heterosexual union to be unplanned or even unwanted, but when it’s a same-sex couple it’s more difficult and challenging to have kids – so a lot of planning and expense goes into it.

“It’s not something that can happen by accident.”

Melbourne-based Chiang-Cruise feels strongly about the rights of gay men to have children – so much so that he’s a co-moderator of the Gay Dads Australia group (“400 members and rising quickly”) and co-chairs Victoria’s regular Surrogacy Forums, an event for gay men looking at surrogacy as an option to create their families.

Chiang-Cruise reports that his non-nuclear family have had nothing but positive reactions in the wider community. “People are more tolerant than you might think,” he states. “We’ve had no negative reactions. It might raise eyebrows briefly when you first meet someone, but everybody knows people who have had kids who shouldn’t have had them – so if they see that the child is loved, that the child is supported, any prejudices are dissolved.”

Nevertheless, gay parenting remains a hot topic in society – particularly when it involves commercial surrogacy, which remains illegal in all states and territories of Australia. Paying for parenting remains controversial, to say the least. But Chiang-Cruise, who says the costs associated with arranging Ethan’s birth were upwards of $130,000 – has an arresting take on the controversy.

“People are paid to be parents in this country all the time,” he says. “And not only that, but the government pays them, which means all of us, as taxpayers, are paying people to become parents. The baby bonuses that have come in are quite considerable, and they’re all about paying people to have kids. That’s exactly what they are. So I find it very strange that we could be criticised for paying money to have a child.”

Ideally, Chiang-Cruise would like to see commercial surrogacy legalised across Australia – “but I don’t think we’ll be seeing that inside of the next twenty years” – but he’s hopeful that altruistic surrogacy (surrogacy where no money trades hands) is on track for legalisation Australia-wide, with Queensland being the final state in which it is illegal “and that looks set to change soon”.

“That would be a good Father’s Day present for a lot of gay Dads,” he says. Peter Hackney


Pictured: Robert with sons Richard (left) and Lee.

“It’s certainly given life more purpose.” So says Robert, who with his partner Ian adopted two boys in London back in 2002. “We’re more child-focused than, say, my parents were; but it’s also about giving the boys the opportunity to experience how we choose to live, such as travel, eating out, that sort of thing.”

Robert although born in London, grew up in Australia, then spent most of his working life back in London, where he met his partner Ian in 1990 on a blind date.

After 12 years together and thinking long and hard about fostering, they had gradually come to realise what they really wanted was to be parents.

“We started the adoption process in 2001 and were finally approved in 2002,” Robert says. “The boys were placed with us right at the end of 2002.”

Two years later, they emigrated to Australia. Why? “Sunshine!” Robert and Ian laugh.

“The boys have a physical freedom here that was certainly lacking in Central London,” Robert adds.

When the law enabling civil unions between same sex couples came into force, Ian and Robert were among the first handful to undertake a civil union through the British High Commission in Sydney.

Their boys Richard and Lee were seven and eight when they came here, so at 12 and 13 they’ve spent half their lives in Sydney. In NSW where gay adoption is not legal, Ian and Robert say they really haven’t met with any bureaucratic hurdles. In fact they’ve found most public servants have gone out of their way to resolve issues rather than be obstructive. “Really the only problem we had was when we applied for passports as naturalised Australian citizens,” Robert says. “Because there was no mother, they couldn’t get their head around that.”

“They did issue the passports in the end,” Ian adds.

They even gave evidence recently to the NSW Senate Inquiry into same-sex adoption.

And how have they gone fitting into their local communities? “We’re living in the bible belt, we’re the only gays in the village!” Robert laughs. “Really, like a single man bringing up kids, you just don’t fit in somewhere social life is primarily organised by women.”

“It’s quite socially isolating,” Ian agrees. “But it’s great for the kids here.”

So how do the boys feel about their dads? “Fun!” yells Richard. “Good!” chimes in Lee.

As they chat about their upcoming trip to China, it’s clear these two boys feel very lucky to have two dads. – Ron Hughes


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