Same Sex Partner Ships: Lesbian Mothers and Families

 


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Modern and Unique Challenges 


 

On July 20th 2005, Bill C-38 was given royal assent. The passing of Bill C-38 by the Chrétien Liberal government of Canada gave same sex couples the legal right to marry. Canada was the fourth country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage; following the Netherlands, Belgium and Spain. However, this historical event was not implemented without opposition. One month prior to the passing of Bill C-38 the leader of the opposition Conservative party stated if his party was to be voted to power during the next election, Bill C-38 will be revisited.

Same-sex rights have always been a source of debate both in the parliament of Canada and out. The majority of same-sex couples have encountered some form of scrutiny during their lives. These challenges are often enhanced when same-sex couples enter parenthood. As the author, a lesbian and strong supporter of equal rights I feel compelled to outline the issues faced by same-sex families, specifically examining lesbian families. Credibility is supported through my own personal interactions within the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, two-spirited and queer (LGBTTQ) community, as well as distinct relevant sources from peer reviewed journals, newspaper articles, published books and credible internet sources.

To best understand the unique issues facing modern lesbian families several keys factors will be examined. First, the decisions and steps required to have children in a lesbian relationship. While examining these decisions and steps, the paper will closely outline the legal barriers, social barriers and sexual barriers that hinder the birth process. Second, the issues surrounding raising a child as lesbian parents. This section will focus on the attachment process, acknowledging there are two female role models. It will also look briefly at the Canadian educational system and their receptiveness to lesbian parents and their children; and lesbian families and their relation to mass media.

Legal Barriers


Post 2005, Canada’s stigma towards lesbian couples had dramatically changed. With the support of the Canadian federal government, legal barriers were removed allowing same-sex couples to wed. The standard North American family (SNAF), which consists of the “breadwinner-father and the homemaker-mother raising their children…” (Ward & Belanger, 2011, p.11) was once again challenged with the passing of Bill C-38. This revolutionary movement backed the understanding that “…difference does not equal inferior” (Ward & Belanger, 2011, p.49).  “Despite the heterogeneity of families in contemporary Western society, those that deviate from the norm are judged to be deficient and inadequate” (Bernstein and Reimann 2001; Smith 1993; Stacey 2003; Stacey and Biblarz 2001). The decision to have a child is monumental in both heterosexual and homosexual couples. However, lesbian mothers must take the extra necessary legal precautions to ensure a successful, safe and loving relationship between mothers and child.  Due to prejudice, discrimination and judgement some legal barriers still exist when considering to start a family in lesbian relationship.

Same-sex couples “almost” have the same rights as heterosexuals under family law, “almost” is the key term. One of the biggest questions in relation to lesbian mothers is who the biological parents are. For many couples it’s a simple answer, for many it’s not. Modern medicine has given lesbian couples several options of how to conceive a child. One trending method is the use of a male “sperm donor”, this modern method has been cause for the term “lesbian baby boom” (Ward & Belanger p, 34).  Typically, an accredited licensed sperm bank facilitates the selection of a preferred donor, who has been screened and tested for multiple diseases and health conditions. The male donor is also legally required to either “waive parental rights” or legally sign that as the donor he is willing and open to contact with the child once he/she reaches the age of 18. “Prospective parents will also want to consider whether they want to choose a donor who has consented to be contacted if the child is interested after age 18” (Hester, 2013). Alternatively, some lesbian parents prefer the donor to have contact with the child throughout its upbringing.

According to a 2010 research review by University of British Columbia law professor Fiona Kelly, it’s likely that 20 to 30 per cent of lesbian couples in Canada, the U.S. and Australia conceive using sperm of a known donor, and most of those inseminations occur at home” (Stechyson, 2013). Regardless of the parents decisions the “birth mother”, the one who is to be inseminated with the donors’ sperm and gives physical birth to the child will have legal custody of the child when born. However, the “other mother”, the partner of the birth mother will typically have to legally adopt the child after the birth. To legally obtain both same sex parents name on a birth certificate is also another battle noted by “Info on Birth Registration for Lesbian/Bi/Queer Women in Ontario”.

You can begin the process of second parent adoption as soon as you have your child’s long form birth certificate. The process usually takes a few months. Most people hire a lawyer to do the paper work for the adoption. Fees usually run between $1,000 and $2,000. While one lawyer prepares all the paper work for the adoption, each parent must get independent legal advice before signing. This usually costs between $200 and $300. Children 7 years of age or older also require independent legal advice, which can be obtained free of charge from the office of the Children’s Lawyer. Any other legal parent, besides the two whom are adopting, must consent to the adoption. Sperm donors may have to consent, depending on circumstances. Again, anyone involved needs independent legal advice. Once the second parent adoption is complete, a new birth registration form is filed, and you can order a new birth certificate. The new birth certificate will include the non-birth mother’s name as well. The final step in the second parent adoption process is a court date, presided over by a family court judge.

Unfortunately it is not currently possible for both the birth mother and non-birth mother to be immediately listed on the birth certificate.

Social Barriers


Social barriers also affect the process in which a lesbian couple can generate a family. Societal pressures that enforce the desire to have children also affect same-sex couples.  Although research proves that “children born to lesbian mothers are developing normally” (McCandlish, 1987; Patterson 1994; Steckel, 1987) many organizations and individuals do not believe so. According to Tobi Cohen and his article titled “Hate Crimes Against Gays Double in Canada” “…three-quarters of all hate crimes against homosexuals involved violence, compared with 38 per cent of racially motivated crimes and a quarter of religiously motivated crimes” (2010).

Despite the passing of new laws and positive progression, homosexuality is still not fully accepted as a social norm. Some individuals actively protest against the union and parental roles of same-sex persons. Homophobia is a blanket term that is used to describe these negative actions, feelings and attitudes towards homosexuals. Homophobia is cause for discrimination, stigma and even violence. Unfortunately, homophobia can affect same-sex parent’s decision in having a child. One’s culture can be equally unperceptive to the possibility of same-sex parent ship.

 Sexual Barriers   


 Other than the obvious sexual barriers that face lesbian couples; problematic issues with artificial insemination, monetary cost, hormonal problems and accessibility to health clinics all hinder the birth process. The entire process is a long journey. The mothers will first have to decide who is going to carry the child. The next step is contacting a facility that will do the procedure. Some clinics won’t assist same-sex couples, so the search for a credible “gay friendly” fertility clinic is extremely important. However, many of the best clinics are located in large cities. Typically before a mother begins artificial insemination she is required to take fertility drugs to help aid in any hormonal problems if they are present; this also helps increase the success rate of a live birth. One unique factor to lesbian couples is the added costs involved in trying to conceive a child. The cost of donor sperm varies from clinic to clinic, one can pay between 300-600 dollars per treatment. Ironically, shipping is usually not included. According to the Baby Center in Canada:

 There are many other costs to consider with artificial or donor insemination. A fertility clinic may charge you for a counselling or an orientation session [with a social worker], which can cost up to $250. Semen preparation will run you roughly $200, but, again, it depends on your clinic. The cost of storing the sperm is usually around $200 per year. Additional costs might include fertility drugs and ovulation predictor kits which are usually $35 – $50 a kit for 5 tests. Clomiphene pills cost as little as $40 for 5 pills that are 50mg each to $100 for higher dosage pills (2012).

Conception on the first cycle is quite rare. Generally it takes between 3-5 attempts to conceive, this does not guarantee a live birth. There are generally also hidden costs involved.

 Bringing Up Baby


Bringing up a child within any family is an exciting new endeavor. However, lesbian families experience some unique benefits and challenges when bringing up a child. When a child enters the family, gender roles become increasingly divided. In a heterosexual relationship the mother typically stays home, cares for the newborn child and takes on more household duties during the early stages of the child’s life, while the father spends more time outside the home working. Lesbian households are different. Lesbian couples tend to voice their opinion on egalitarian allocation of household duties and the raising of children. It’s understood that two parent households tend to raise happier children. This is the product of financial stability that is reinforced by two working parents as well as attachment to two stable parental figures. It’s also proven that lesbian headed households tend to be happier due to increased emotional support between women. Another unique benefit of lesbian households is the amount of risk for family violence. A study done by U.S. National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study (NLLFS) proved, “Zero. That’s the risk of child abuse in lesbian households, according to the NLLFS, led by the Williams Institute, an affiliate of the University of California at Los Angeles.” (Balkisson, D 2013).

Lesbian parents also tend to be less secretive about the conception of the child then straight parents are. Despite the many positives involved with lesbian parenthood there are also some challenges. Without a doubt children with same sex parents will be bullied and scrutinized at some point. The educational system can be a daunting task for lesbian families to maneuver. “A recent survey by the legal rights group Equality for Gays And Lesbians Everywhere found that 37 per cent of these teens reported verbal harassment, and 27 per cent reported physical harassment” (Balkisson, D, 2013). Lesbian parents can help prevent bullying within the school system by being forefront and honest about their family structure. Some families choose to be pro-active by arranging meetings with principals and teachers explaining their unique situation. Others prefer to wait, not wanting to bring up an unnecessary issue.

Another significant issue that constantly challenges lesbian families is the societal push for a “male role model” in the child’s life. The mass media imposes pressures that reinforce the standard North American family. Traditional male and female gender roles are strengthened by personal and sexual interactions on television, in movies, the internet and music. These interactions can help or hinder a child’s sexual beliefs. One down fall to mass media is it often portrays homosexuality as unnatural, fortifying stigmas attached to homosexuality. This may cause conflict for children growing up without a “male figure”.

In heterosexual relationships there is typically one male dominate figure, the father. To combat this issue many lesbian mothers have taken the initiative and built their own communal families with male figures. These chosen male role models play a positive role in the development of the children. Same-sex couples are incredibly resilient. Despite, social norms lesbian mothers are quite capable of bringing up a healthy well-adjusted child. The LGBTTQ community has many resources accessible to mothers that assist in positive attachment between mothers, child and if chosen, the male role model. The need for a male role model is not necessary, yet it may yield positive results for the child in societal contexts. For any child having loving, supportive parents is of the upmost importance, regardless of the parent’s sex.

Adults of Lesbian Mothers


As adults, children raised by lesbian parents typically tend to more tolerant and open minded towards sensitive societal issues, such as gender, sexuality. Even though adults raised by lesbian parents are more understanding in regards to sexual identities it does not mean they are more likely to be gay, bisexual or lesbian.

The battle for sexual equality is far from over; although with continued education, programs and increased awareness we will be able to assist society in the necessary steps to resolve discrimination of the LGBTTQ community.

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Ending 


“It is estimated that 40% of all pregnancies [in heterosexual couples] in Canada are unplanned” (University of Ottawa, 2013). Unlike a large percentage of heterosexual population, lesbian mothers have to literally plan every step of their pregnancy far in advance. I find it fascinating that lesbian mothers are often ridiculed for their decision to bring up a child in a same-sex relationship. On the contrary I find it extremely admirable and brave. Lesbian mothers are required to not only examine their own relationship and personal life, but the outcome of the child’s before it’s even born. Every little issue must be addressed. The mothers finical stability, how prepared they are, there connections to one another, family values, educational outcomes and self-awareness is all placed under a hypothetical microscope; something that would never be asked of a heterosexual couple.

The focus of this paper was to outline the unique challenges lesbian mothers and families face when bringing up a child. These challenges concentrated on legal barriers imposed by the Canadian federal and provincial governments, social barriers such as discrimination and homophobia and sexual barriers relating to issues with fertility drugs and treatment. Although the paper specifically targeted lesbians, it introduced practices within the LGBTTQ community as whole. It should be understood that lesbian mothers and families are inherently exposed to stigmatism and homophobia when raising children. The brilliant aspect of this situation is these families become incredibly strong, understanding and supportive of one another. With the support from family, friends, community and a little perseverance, barriers that uniquely hinder same-sex couples can be overcome resulting in a wonderful family experience.

-River 

References


Bernstein, M., & Reimann, R. (2001). Queer families and the politics of visibility. In M. Bernstein, & R.Reimann (Eds.), Queer families, queer politics (p. 1–20). New York: Columbia University Press.

Cohen, T. (2010, April 17) Hate crimes against gays double in Canada. Canwest News Service. Retrieved from http://www.canada.com/life/Hate+crimes+against+gays+doubled+Canada/3155968/story.html

Costs of fertility treatments in Canada. (2012) Baby Center. Retrieved from http://www.babycenter.ca/a1028300/cost-of-fertility-treatments-in-canada

 Hicks, S. (2010). Social Work in Canada an Introduction. Toronto, ON: Thomspon Educational Publishing, Inc.

 McCandlish, B. (1987). Against all odds: Lesbian mother family dynamics. In F. Bozett (Ed.), Gay and lesbian parents (pp. 23-38). NewYork: Praeger.

 University of Ottawa. (2013). Facts and Figures on Abortion Canada. Society, the Individual and Medicine. Retrieved from http://www.med.uottawa.ca/sim/data/Abortion_e.htm

 Ward, M.,Belanger, M. (2011). The Family Dynamic a Canadian Perspective.Toronto, ON: Nelson Education Ltd.

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