Monday, December 17, 2007

Who Magazine - "Not Your Average Family" by Michael Crooks & Emma Dimwiddie

Two same-sex couples share the joy and challenges of parenthood.

Whenever their eyes settle on their little girl, Kirk and Rob Marcolina's faces beam. Although Sophie is already 20 months old, her two dads are still overwhelmed with having a daughter and relishing their role as fathers. "The most rewarding things are seeing here take her first step, say her first word or give you her first kiss," says Rob, 37, in the couple's Rose Bay, Sydney, home. "It is so much fun to watch her grow and learn about the world."

That they treasure such moments isn't surprising. To have Sophie - Kirk's biological child - has been a lengthy, often complicated, process for the couple. Indeed, for any gay or lesbian couple desiring children of their own, the journey can be costly and often relies on the goodwill of others, including sperm and egg donors and surrogate mothers. Then, once they become parents, homosexuals don't have the same rights and privileges as heterosexual couples - a hot issue during the federal election campaign. (In June, WA became the first Australian state to allow a gay couple to adopt a child.) Indeed, it's not easy, says Kirk, 37, "for a gay couple to have a child."

Not that they were ever deterred. Kirk and Rob's plant to start a family was on the agenda from the moment they met as neighbours in Los Angeles in 2001. "One of the things that attracted us to each other was the fact we both wanted to have kdis one day," says Kirk, a stay-at-home dad and former TV producer from Philadelphia. He and Melbourne-born Rob, who was working in Los Angeles when they met, married legally in Canada in 2003 and set about starting a family. "It was a question of how," says Rob, now a management consultant in Sydney for a US-Based company.

They decided on the surrogacy route, and Rob's sister, Kym, a Melbourne mother of two, volunteered to donate an egg. Kirk would provide the sperm for the in-vitro fertilisation treatment. "Kym knew how important it was for me to have a child," says Rob, who proudly points out that Sophie has a resemblance to his side of the family. Adds Kirk: "It was an amazing gift to us." The next challenge was finding a gestational surrogate (a "traditional" surrogate involves the woman's own egg). While paid surrogacy is illegal in Australia, in the US there are agencies that cate for gay and lesbian couples. Through the Los Angeles agency Growing Generations, Rob and Kirk were put in touch with Sonia, who was implatnted with the fertilised egg (the couple preferred not to disclose what the surrogacy cost, but the price can range from $US115,000 to $US150,000). "We had full involvement during the pregnancy," says Rob, "and we were at the birth, which was a wonderful experience. When Sophie was born, the doctor handed Sophie to Kirk and I got to cut the cord."

Being a two-dad family might be different - "At some of the playgroups, you definitely sick out," says Kirk - but the couple haven't yet faced any social hurdles. "People are curious because it's not your average family." says Kirk. "But everyone has been very positive."

Sydney couple Kendi and Leigh Burness-Cowan have also had a favourable experience in raising their two children. "I don't feel there is any difference really between us and other couples with children." says 32-year old Kendi, a Sydney communications officer who gay birth to both the couple's children, Hunter, 3, and Hugo, 7 months (the couple use a sperm donor found through a personal ad). "A few people took a while to warm to the idea, but nobody has said anything negative."

Where problems can arise is in the rights of the parents. THe Burness-Cowans and the Marcolinas "are not legally recognised as couples," says human-rights commissioner Graeme Innes. "It can have an impact in terms of access to the Medicare safety net, access to various tax provisions and access to leave which might relate to looking after a sick child."

For Kendi, this hasn't posed a problem, "apart from crossing out lots of "father' columns on various forms," she says. "Where it would be an issue would be if the parents separated and there were custody issues, although the courts consider a child's 'best interest.'" And Rob and Kirk say they simply want more acceptance of gay and lesbian families in Australia. "A lot of people say gay people shouldn't be parents," says Rob. "What I'd like to say is that when a gay person has a family, they really want that child - they're the most wanted kids, in a way Sophie has the love of two dads, two loving parents, which is all you can really ask for."

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