There is something particularly irritating about being called a “homophobe” and a “bigot” when you have been campaigning for gay and lesbian equality for almost forty years. When you have weathered times that were far more challenging for gay people than today, and suffered discrimination and exclusion on a scale probably not experienced by those young LGBT activists who are so trigger-happy with their disparagements.
Yet the insults are what I can expect today when I dare to speak out against the clamor to include commercial surrogacy as an inviolable LGBT “right.”
If I had not discovered the harrowing and shocking documentaries of Jennifer Lahl, president of the Center for Bioethics and Culture, my ignorance about surrogacy, and relative indifference towards it, would have continued. It is imperative that the information she is trying to share about this legal, ethical, and medical minefield should find its way into public consciousness. And yet, surrogacy is being championed as an “LGBT right,” with dissenting voices labelled as “homophobic” and stigmatized into silence.
The western gay and lesbian rights movement has taken some wrong turns in recent times, and the growing campaign to legalize surrogacy is one of them. Even what we call ourselves now is a mistake. Whereas I use the “LGBT” (or “LGBTQI+” etc.) initialism for convenience, I really cannot understand why there has been this fusion of gay rights with trans rights. Being gay relates to sexual orientation, and being trans relates to gender identity: two completely separate issues. There is a serious concern within the gay and lesbian community about safe and protected women’s spaces that clashes with the demands of some of the more radical trans activists. The LGBT “community” is anything but a cohesive group with homogeneous views.
Surrogacy and the LGBT Movement
My focus in this piece, however, is on surrogacy. As I am a gay rights campaigner, I mainly concentrate my anti-surrogacy efforts on the LGBT community. However, I emphatically oppose surrogacy in all its forms, for everyone: gay and straight.
Surrogacy is increasingly being viewed as though it were an “LGBT right.” For example, on a Sunday in July 2018, tens of thousands of LGBT people demonstrated for gay rights across Israel. Israel is actually the only country in the Middle East where gay rights are protected and gay couples can live in peace. These demonstrations, however, were different from standard LGBT rights demonstrations, as they were a response to the new Israeli surrogacy law not granting male gay couples access to surrogacy arrangements.
It feels to me that there is something profoundly inauthentic and even menacing about the modern LGBT rights movement, which is certainly expressed in those quarters where surrogacy is championed in its name. It is as though there were an amorphous, unrepresentative and intangible entity providing unexamined, prepackaged opinions via the LGBT media that are then imbibed, assimilated, and regurgitated. There is a mindlessness, laziness, and sometimes even a cowardliness, about the way many individuals cede their responsibility for critical thinking to others. The gay rights movement a couple of decades ago showed far more tolerance of, and genuine interest in, a diversity of opinions, and a greater openness to critical discussion. The modern LGBT rights movement seems to have become quite authoritarian and to lack critical self-awareness.
Unfortunately, gay and lesbian people are still, for the most part, socially isolated from one another, so the information we receive, and the discussions we have, tend to derive from the LGBT media, whose owners and administrators have become the arbiters of acceptable truth and the protectors of orthodoxy. A relatively small cadre of authoritarian individuals are claiming to speak for a colossal body of gay and lesbian people who actually have very heterogeneous views: and a large number of us are even quite politically conservative.
It can be risky to push back against the LGBT orthodoxy. A dissenting view posted beneath an online article in the LGBT media, or on social media, is likely to lead to ad hominem attacks, verbal abuse, misrepresentation, or even mobbing. People even suffer professional and legal consequences these days for expressing heretical opinions.
The Missing Women
The LGBT media almost always presents surrogacy as a beautiful and irreproachable way for gay men to have children. The most recent example I have encountered at the time of writing is a piece in the online LGBT news outlet, Pink News, whose joyous headline declares, “Westlife’s Markus Feehily is expecting a baby with his fiancé.” The report includes quotations from breathlessly enthusiastic fans and bandmates, peppered with multiple heart-emojis and capital letter exclamations. However, oddly enough, nowhere in the article is there any mention of the word “surrogacy.” Neither is there any mention at all of there being any women involved in the process. Of course, there would be no need to name them. However, both the biological mother, who provided the egg, and the birth mother, who carried the baby to term, surely played crucial roles, both risking their physical and psychological health, and indeed lives. No. It is Westlife’s Markus Feehily who is “expecting a baby with his fiancé,” and apparently, anything else is a mere irrelevance and distraction.
This tendency is one that I have increasingly noticed of late in the LGBT media. It seems that the LGBT movement expects gay couples to be able to say “we are having a baby” on exactly the same terms permitted to heterosexual couples. The fact that they need women to provide the egg and carry the baby is an uncomfortable reminder that the terms are necessarily different. This results in the birth mother and the biological mother increasingly being airbrushed out of LGBT media reports by the unrelenting rainbow spray can. The mothers become no more than an inconvenient, politically embarrassing, and dispensable means to an end.
What also doesn’t help is when respected and high-profile people with a strong public influence seem to condone or endorse surrogacy. Even Mayor Pete Buttigieg seems to be getting in on the act now, having declared that he and his husband are “hoping to have a little one soon.” He dodged the question in a CNN interview to clarify whether this meant by adoption or surrogacy. That would have been a great opportunity for him to question the ethics of surrogacy.
Mr Buttigieg and his husband would need plenty of money to afford commercial surrogacy. It commonly entails a six-figure sum. I can’t think of any other claimed LGBT “right” that excludes anyone but the significantly wealthy from access: an exclusive privilege of the rich, yet increasingly championed by the Left.
Mr Buttigieg and his husband might well turn out to be excellent parents. However, once the legal surrogacy gate gets opened, all kinds of people walk through it, not just those who genuinely care about children and will provide them with unconditional love and excellent parenting. The rigorous vetting procedures for adoption do not apply.
Silencing Dissent, Then and Now
One day soon, I fear, even the mere reference to surrogacy arrangements, or to the women involved, in a media surrogacy report relating to gay couples, will attract a knee-jerk accusation of “homophobia,” “hatred” and “bigotry.” In a culture of this kind, it is hardly surprising, then, that questions regarding exploitation, harm and legitimacy are generally denied airtime in the LGBT media.
This authoritarian cadre does not speak for the whole gay and lesbian community. We have many different views, we have limited access to information, and on the whole, we are fragmented, isolated from one another, and do not have access to the megaphone voice of the LGBT activist media. No matter what the thought police assert, surrogacy cannot be an “LGBT right.” There is no universal right to be a parent, for anyone, gay or straight. Gay and lesbian people can be very good parents, just as straight people can be very good parents. I’ve witnessed excellent and transformative parenting from same-sex parents who adopted children from local authority care, children who had been emotionally damaged and needed a stable and healing environment. I am not opposed to same-sex parenting per se.
However, in surrogacy, the perceived “right” to have a child competes with the right of women and the right of children to freedom from exploitation, instrumentalization and commodification, which are violated by surrogacy arrangements. Any claim to an “LGBT right” here could not prevail over the rights of the women and children that are affected so negatively.
The black-and-white thinking to be found in the LGBT community has not arisen from a vacuum. Gay and lesbian people have been subjected to discrimination, misrepresentation and exclusion for centuries. This, in turn, has created an isolated and alienated community carrying a great deal of hurt and anger. The deliberate social exclusion from mainstream values, institutions, and activities has encouraged a siege mentality, where objective, detached thinking, as well as a willingness to see a human being behind opinions to which one is averse, can be far more difficult to access.
Some individuals even use any debate on surrogacy as an opportunity to vent their negative views on homosexuality and to disparage gay people, playing into the hands of those who attempt to promote surrogacy as an “LGBT right.” The example of such opponents can be used in an attempt to associate all opposition to surrogacy with homophobia. This is enormously unhelpful to those of us who campaign to expose and ban the surrogacy industry.
LGBT Rights Cannot Entail Harming Others
We really need to get back to basics and reconsider our gay rights priorities. The current US Administration, with its call for the decriminalization of homosexuality worldwide, is providing a welcome reminder that gay rights should not stop at western borders and that there are still very serious issues to deal with. There are still people being flogged, imprisoned, and hanged in some countries for being gay. The gay and lesbian rights movement is too important for it to be tarnished by an association with the campaign to legalize and legitimize surrogacy. As gay people, we cannot insist on the right to carry out practices that harm the rights of others, whether that relates to renting wombs or to using legislation for the purpose of causing misery to decent businesspeople whose religious convictions do not allow them to cater for gay weddings.
Many of those who support commercial surrogacy fail to see the parallel with the sale of human organs, which is banned in almost every country worldwide. Clearly, when low-income people sell their kidneys to the wealthy, this is perceived as crossing a red line in terms of exploitation of the economically vulnerable. So, if it is not acceptable to pay for organs, which would save lives, then why should it be acceptable to pay for babies, where no lives are saved? Especially given that a baby, unlike a kidney, is an individual human being in his or her own right, and that donating eggs, and carrying babies for others, are processes that carry significant health risks.
When commercial surrogacy is legalized on the coattails of the LGBT community, the result is that the surrogacy agencies, their lawyers, and their physicians make a ton of money. Our campaign refers to these entities as “Big Fertility.” The LGBT rights movement abets Big Fertility by doing the heavy lifting toward legalization and social acceptance. Once it becomes an established LGBT right, anyone then opposing surrogacy will be accused of homophobia—a trend we are already beginning to see.
Rather than being an LGBT rights issue, surrogacy is a women’s rights issue and a children’s rights issue; like the sale of human organs, it is not an activity that should be promoted or indeed permitted. With its stifling of debate on this issue, and its increasing determination to treat surrogacy as a matter of LGBT equality, the modern LGBT rights movement continues to lose its moral authority and to become an obstacle to justice, rather than its champion.