‘The both of us are his daddies’: Three surrogacy stories in Ireland

Legal uncertainty in Ireland has not stopped couples going abroad to create longed-for families

Three families in Ireland, three very different stories but one common thread – each couple has used a surrogate mother to give birth to their children.

Surrogacy is neither legal nor illegal in Ireland because it is not yet addressed in legislation. But that has not deterred an increasing number of couples who see it as the only way to create their longed-for family. While lawmakers here have deliberated for at least 10 years over the ramifications of surrogacy, these couples can’t wait and mostly go abroad to a country that has legislated for it.more gay couples are embracing surrogacy

There are undoubtedly legal and moral issues to be debated around surrogacy. But here, in the run-up to a Dublin conference hosted by the international not-for-profit Families Through Surrogacy, three couples tell how they moved beyond the abstract to make surrogacy part of their life story.

Neil McDonagh (28), Andrew Millar (27) and 14-week-old Oisín Millar-McDonagh live in Belfast

Partners for nine years, Neil McDonagh and Andrew Millar used to imagine what it would be like to raise a child – “like as if it was never going to happen”, says McDonagh.

But five years ago they began to think seriously about the “what if”. At the time, as a gay couple, adoption was not an option for them in the North so they looked into the possibility of being assessed in England for approval to adopt.

Not only was the process daunting but they were also keen to adopt a baby, and it was mostly older children who were being placed. They started to consider surrogacy.

They had just settled on doing it in Thailand when that country closed its programme to foreigners. That is the thing with international surrogacy, says McDonagh, “it is so fluid – one minute it’s okay and the next minute it’s not”. They considered Cambodia and Nepal but no sooner had they decided on the latter than the Himalayan country abruptly shut its surrogacy programme in September 2015.

“That really did set us back – it is an emotional roller coaster,” says McDonagh, originally from Dublin. They began to ask themselves should they accept that surrogacy wasn’t for them. However, their thoughts turned back to the UK where altruistic surrogacy is permitted.

When researching the possibility, they became part of an online network of parents and surrogates. They got to know a woman who had carried a baby for another couple and asked her if she was intending to do it again, would she consider them as parents? Three months later she said she was open to the idea and suggested the three of them meet.

The Irish Times by Sheila Wayman, February 25, 2016

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South Dakota Senate advances protections for adoption agencies that turn away gay couples

The South Dakota Senate on Wednesday advanced a bill that would protect religious or faith-based foster care and adoption agencies that deny child placement to same-sex couples and single parents.

PIERRE — On a 22-12 vote, South Dakota legislators approved Senate Bill 149, which would ensure that religious or faith-based adoption and foster care groups could continue to benefit from state funds and that they wouldn’t face retribution if they denied placement to a parent or couple that doesn’t meet their requirements.

The measure’s sponsor Sen. Alan Solano, R-Rapid City, said he brought the bill to ensure that groups with “sincerely held” religious views are able to place children with traditional families or with other parents that they deem appropriate. He said the bill would help maintain the status quo in that private adoption groups in the state could continue to utilize certain faith-based requirements when selecting prospective parents.gay adoption

“I worry that with out these protections that these boards are going to say we’re done doing child placement,” Solano said.

He said other cities and states have brought restrictions on private adoption agencies that require they drop placement standards based on religion or sexual orientation or risk losing state funding for the services or other programs.

Currently, more than a dozen private adoption agencies operate in the state and if they don’t contract with the state, they are able to turn away single parents, LGBTQ people or non-religious people. Six other organizations currently receive state funds and as a result must comply with state and federal standards that bar them from imposing restrictions based on religion, sexual orientation, marital status, race or gender identity.

Opponents of the bill, including civil rights groups and LGBT advocacy organizations have said the bill’s passage would lead to discrimination at the taxpayer’s expense and could land the state in court.

“This bill could prevent LGBT couples, interfaith couples, divorced people and many otherwise qualified, loving families from adopting children under the guise of religious liberty – all on the taxpayer’s dime,” said Libby Skarin, policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota. “Everyone has the right to their beliefs and to act on them, but that right doesn’t give anyone, including the government, a license to harm others.”

by Dana Ferguson, Argus Leader, 2/22/2017

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Will Your 529 Plan Hurt Your Child’s Eligibility For Financial Aid?

 The thought of paying for a child’s college education can send convulsions through any parent. Today is 529 Day, and these plans are a popular college saving solution, but the uncertainty of how the account will impact financial aid makes some hesitant to open a 529 plan.

You can only imagine my excitement (sad I know) when I saw a Facebook post from my high school friend and Jazzercise extraordinaire, Teresa.  She was touting the benefits of having a 529 plan from firsthand experience and even correcting a misunderstanding about 529 plans’ impact on financial aid.

In her post, Teresa wrote about the importance of starting a 529 plan for your child. Her son, a brilliant future engineer, received partial financial aid and scholarships to college. The remaining amount of college expenses he owes will be fully covered by her 529 plan, making her son one of the few millennials that will leave college debt-free.

Most of the comments to her post were advocates of the 529 plan, but one of the posts initially was “anti-529 plan” due to concerns about the effect on financial aid, until Teresa, the 529 plan guru, came to the rescue and explained the effect of 529 plans on financial aid in a way that would make any financial planner proud. As I read her post and the comments, I realized that not everyone is aware that there are several factors that go into how a 529 plan affects a dependent child’s financial aid package. In general, how 529 plans are counted towards your child’s financial aid package depends on the financial aid form used, who owns the 529 plan, and your child’s college’s formula on how 529 plans are counted towards financial aid packages.529 plan

Financial Aid Form Used

My guidance to any parent with a child attending college is to ask your child’s college  what financial aid forms are required. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form is the most used financial aid form, especially for college students seeking federal need-based financial aid. How a 529 plan is reported for dependent students and counted for financial aid typically depends on the owner of the 529 plan.

529 Plan Owner’s Effect on Aid

529 plan owned by a custodial parent. In general, on the FAFSA form, a 529 plan owed by the custodial parent(s) typically counts as an investment and it may reduce need-based aid by a maximum of 5.64% of the asset’s value. Teresa knew that depending on your income, your 529 plan may have no impact on your child’s financial aid package. Withdrawals from 529 plans used for qualified higher education expenses owned by the custodial parent are not typically reported as parent or student income. Since only a small amount of the 529 plan is counted and none of the withdrawals, custodial parent-owned 529 plans generally have the least impact on your child’s financial aid package. Typically, parents are one of the owners whose 529 plans get the most favorable treatments, so ideally the custodial parent should own the 529 plan.

529 plan owned by the non-custodial, non-married parent, living separately. 529 plans owned by the non-custodial parent are not generally listed on the FAFSA form. Once the funds are withdrawn, those funds are typically considered to be student cash support (untaxed income) on the FAFSA form. Up to 50% of the value of the student’s income (after allowances) could be part of the Expected Family Contribution (EFC, page 10). Consider funding a 529 plan owned by the custodial parent or (if your 529 plan allows) transfer ownership to your college-bound child since a 529 plan owned by a child is considered a parental asset and gets the more favorable treatment on financial aid forms.

529 plans owned by relatives and friends (grandparents, aunts, etc). 529 plans owned by anyone who is not a custodial parent follow similar rules. The 529 is not counted as an asset on the FAFSA form, but like non-custodial parents, withdrawals from the 529 plan are counted as student non-taxable income and up to 50% of the value of the withdrawal could impact financial aid. If you are a relative or family friend with a 529 plan for a child, consider waiting until the child files their last FAFSA form to withdraw the funds from the 529 plan.

by Tania Brown, Forbes.com, May 29, 2016

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Florist Discriminated Against Gay Couple, Washington Supreme Court Rules

A florist who refused to sell flowers for a same-sex wedding cannot claim religious belief as a defense under the state’s anti-discrimination laws, Washington’s high court said Thursday, in a case that has been watched around the nation by religious and civil rights groups.

SEATTLE — The unanimous ruling by the nine-member state Supreme Court, which a lawyer for the florist said would be appealed to the United States Supreme Court, addressed sweeping questions about public accommodation, artistic expression and free speech.Discrimination

But at its heart was a very human story about Arlene’s Flowers in the small city of Richland, in southeast Washington, and what happened there in 2013 when Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed started planning their wedding. The shop’s owner, Barronelle Stutzman, knew that Mr. Ingersoll and Mr. Freed were gay and had sold them flowers for years, but then refused to provide flowers for their wedding. Her Christian faith, which defined marriage as between a man and a woman, created a line, she said, that she could not cross.

But in affirming a lower court’s finding, the Supreme Court said flatly that it agreed with the couple — flowers were not really the point.

The case, the court said in its 59-page decision, “is no more about access to flowers than civil rights cases in the 1960s were about access to sandwiches.” And laws, the decision said, can have legitimate social goals. “Public accommodations laws do not simply guarantee access to goods or services,” it said. “Instead, they serve a broader societal purpose: eradicating barriers to the equal treatment of all citizens.”

National gay rights groups hailed the decision as another plank of protection for same-sex couples and marriage equality.

“People should also never use their personal religious beliefs as a free pass to violate the law or the basic civil rights of others,” Sarah Warbelow, the legal director at the Human Rights Campaign, which advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer civil rights, said in a statement.

by Kirk Johnson, New York Times – February 16, 2017

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Same-Sex Parenting Studies: Research Proves Sexual Orientation Of Parents Doesn’t Matter

More studies proves that it doesn’t matter at all whether or not kids have same-sex parents.

Rachel Farr, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Kentucky, conducted the study, which was recently published in the Developmental Psychology journal.studies

Farr studied 100 families who adopted children at infancy. Half the parents were same-sex and the other half were opposite sex. She concluded: “Rather than family structure, available research on early child development indicates that family processes matter more to child outcomes.”

child’s behaviour is more influenced by: parenting stress, parenting approaches and couple relationship adjustment.

She writes: “Regardless of parental sexual orientation, children (in the study) had fewer behaviour problems over time when their adoptive parents indicated experiencing less parenting stress. Higher family functioning when children were school-age was predicted by lower parenting stress and fewer child behaviour problems when children were preschool-age.”

by Kristy Woudstra, Huffington Post Canada – January 5, 2017

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Vague anti same-sex marriage bills begin final steps through Virginia GA

Today, in a Virginia Senate General Laws committee hearing, HB 2025, authored by Del. Freitas (R- 30) by a vote of 8-7.

Before the bill was passed it was amended to match its Virginia Senate counter part, SB 1324. This senate version, submitted by Sen. Carrico, is an exact copy of a bill he submitted last year – that legislation passed the House and Senate and was vetoed by McAuliffe weeks later.

Both bills, known as a solemnization bills,  aim to shield any “person” from punishment from the state, civil or otherwise, if they deny services in a same-sex marriage. It defines a “person” as a “religious organization, organization supervised or controlled by or operated in connection with a religious organization, individual employed by a religious organization while acting in the scope of his paid or volunteer employment, successor, representative, agent, agency, or instrumentality of any of the foregoing or clergy member or minister.”adoption for gay couples

In layman’s terms, it aims to protect pastors and other faith leaders in churches from civil or criminal punishment if they deny services to same-sex couples. However the bill has also been interpreted by some activists to include other faith-based organizations like church- run schools or hospitals, giving them the ability to refuse visitation rights by same-sex couples, or deny the children of same-sex parents in parochial programs.

The bill was amended and passed without comment and the vote was along party lines with no surprises.

Sen. Carrico’s bill now heads to the House General Laws Committee where it is set to similarly be passed with little debate or issue.

Gov. McAuliffe has promised to veto this bill along with any other bill which could negatively impact LGBTQ Virginians.

by Brad Kutner, February 13, 2107

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Human Gene Editing Receives Science Panel’s Support

An influential science advisory group formed by the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine on Tuesday lent its support to a once-unthinkable proposition: clinical efforts to engineer humans with inheritable genetic traits.

In a report laden with caveats and notes of caution, the group endorsed the alteration of human eggs, sperm and embryos — but only to prevent babies from being born with genes known to cause serious diseases and disability, only when no “reasonable alternative” exists, and only when a plan is in place to track the effects of the procedure through multiple generations.

Human genetic engineering for any reason has long been seen as an ethical minefield. Many scientists fear that the techniques used to prevent genetic diseases might also be used to enhance intelligence or create humans physically suited to particular tasks, like soldiers.gene editing

Just over a year ago, an international group of scientists declared that it would be “irresponsible to proceed” with making heritable changes to the human genome until the risks could be better assessed and until there was “broad societal consensus about the appropriateness” of any proposed change.

Because any genetic changes in human eggs, sperm and embryos, also called the germ line, can be passed on to future generations, the recommendation crosses a line that “many have viewed as ethically inviolable,” the report acknowledges.

But in the last year, the report’s authors said, the techniques required to perform this sort of gene editing have passed crucial milestones that have forced ethical considerations to the fore.

“Previously, it was easy for people to say, ‘This isn’t possible, so we don’t have to think about it much,’” said Richard Hynes, a cancer researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who was one of the leaders of the committee that wrote the new report.

“Now we can see a path whereby we might be able to do it, so we have to think about how to make sure it’s used only for the right things and not for the wrong things,” he said.

by Amy Harmon, New York Times, February 14, 2017

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Artificial insemination parenting bill draws LGBT criticism

Two Tennessee lawmakers want to do away with a 40-year-old state law granting legitimacy to children conceived through artificial insemination. Critics say the bill is aimed at gay couples and their children.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The bill would remove a single sentence applying to child custody when artificial insemination is involved, one that’s been interpreted to make no distinction between same-sex and heterosexual couples.

But opponents warn that changing the law could prevent both same-sex parents from appearing on the children’s birth certificates, affecting their ability to make parenting decisions ranging from medical care to education.

“It would affect lesbian couples in particular, because if you have two women who are married and one is the birth mother, the other one is presumed to be parent in Tennessee,” said Chris Sanders, the executive director of the Tennessee Equality Project.anonymous sperm donors

Ever since the 2015 same-sex marriage ruling, Tennessee laws with gender-specific terms have been interpreted as applying to either gender of married couples. But that would change under another Republican bill that is seeking to eliminate gender-neutral interpretations of “mother,” ”father,” ”husband,” and “wife.” 

“Clearly, the legislative intention behind both these bills is to stop lesbian couples from having the same automatic recognition of their parent-child relationships that opposite-sex couples have,” Julia Tate-Keith, a Murfreesboro attorney specializing in adoption and surrogacy issues, said in a legal memo.

State Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, the sponsor of the artificial insemination bill, in a Facebook post denied that her bill is aimed at same-sex marriage, and argued it would not de-legitimize children because another state law addresses parentage without asking about the method of conception.

“The remaining law that will now govern the situation does not have the government inquiring into the means by which the couple’s child came into existence or whose sperm, the husband’s or a donor’s, was used,” Weaver wrote in the post.

Weaver said there would be no change under her legislation for heterosexual couples. “A child born to a married woman will be considered the child of her husband,” she said in a statement.

But that part of the code refers to circumstances when “a man is rebuttably presumed to be the father of a child.” Tate-Keith said that that language does not carry the same gender-neutral interpretation as other parts of state law.

Sanders said that heterosexual couples would have to go through more legal steps if the bill becomes law.

“Straight couples will lose the presumption of paternity,” Sanders said. “It will require them to go to court.”

“What if you didn’t tell your family and friends you were getting fertility treatment?” he said. “It just creates more hardship, more hoops to jump through.”

By ERIK SCHELZIG Associated Press, February 13, 2017

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Indiana Birth certificate battle moves to 7th Circuit

Despite a change in state leadership, Indiana will continue fighting over birth certificates in a move that is being seen as part of a larger ongoing resistance to same-sex marriage.

Indiana has appealed the ruling in Henderson v. Adams, 17-1141, which allowed married non-birth mothers to be listed as a parent on the child’s birth certificate. The Pence administration refused to recognize these women as parents and twice tried to convince the district court to limit the scope of the state’s parenthood statutes.

Although a new governor has been installed, the state is turning to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals but has not yet submitted a brief stating what issue it wants the appellate panel to address. Neither Gov. Eric Holcomb nor Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill responded to phone and email messages seeking comment.gay parents adopting, same sex paretners

“I had been hopeful that with a new attorney general and a new governor we would see a change in the state’s handling of this matter,” said Karen Celestino-Horseman, one of attorneys representing the couples in Henderson.

The plaintiffs in Henderson, a group of married lesbian couples, challenged Indiana’s stance that non-birth mothers are not parents because they are not biologically related to the children. Their primary argument was that they were being treated differently from similarly situated heterosexual couples who had undergone artificial insemination. The men in those marriages were still listed as the father on the birth certificate even though they didn’t share a biological connection with the offspring.

Judge Tanya Walton Pratt of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana overturned the state’s parenthood statutes, finding they violate the Equal Protection and Due Process clauses of the 14th Amendment.

The state subsequently filed a motion asking the court to modify and clarify the ruling. Walton Pratt denied the motion to amend the judgment but granted the state’s request to clarify how the judgment should be applied, pointing out “the Order means what it says and says what it means.”

The IndianaLawyer.com, by Marilyn Odendahl, February 8, 2017

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Boy Scouts, Reversing Century-Old Stance, Will Allow Transgender Boys

Reversing its stance of more than a century, the Boy Scouts of America said on Monday that the group would begin accepting members based on the gender listed on their application, paving the way for transgender boys to join the organization.

“For more than 100 years, the Boy Scouts of America, along with schools, youth sports and other youth organizations, have ultimately deferred to the information on an individual’s birth certificate to determine eligibility for our single-gender programs,” the group said in a statement on its website. “However, that approach is no longer sufficient as communities and state laws are interpreting gender identity differently, and these laws vary widely from state to state.”

The announcement, reported on Monday night by The Associated Press, reverses a policy that drew controversy late last year when a transgender boy in New Jersey was kicked out of the organization about a month after joining.Boy Scouts

“After weeks of significant conversations at all levels of our organization, we realized that referring to birth certificates as the reference point is no longer sufficient,” Michael Surbaugh, the Scouts’ chief executive, said in a recorded statement on Monday.

The announcement came amid a national debate over transgender rights, with cities and states across the nation struggling with whether and how to regulate gender identity in the workplace, in restrooms and at schools.

In recent years, the Boy Scouts of America has expanded rights for gay people. In 2013, the group ended its ban on openly gay youths participating in its activities. Two years later, the organization ended its ban on openly gay adult leaders.

Advocates for gay and transgender people who had pushed for changes in Boy Scouts’ policy praised Monday’s announcement.

“From our perspective, they clearly did the right thing,” said Zach Wahls, who co-founded Scouts for Equality, a nonprofit group that advocates for stronger protections in the organization for gays and transgender people. “My team and I knew that they were considering a policy change, but we are both heartened and surprised by how quickly they moved to change the situation.”

New York Times,