Lords debate more rights for same-sex couples

A protester holds a rainbow flag outside the Houses of Parliament in central London on June 3, 2013, as protesters gather in support of same-sex marriage

Today the House of Lords will continue to debate the second reading of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill.

During Monday’s debate bishops and peers disagreed on the role of fathers.

For the government, Lord Darzi of Denham explained the purpose of the bill is to “ensure that the law remains effective and fit for purpose in the 21st century.”

The main provisions of the legislation aim to regulate the use of all embryos outside the body. The changes of most interest to the gay community concern the rights of same-sex couples.

“The Bill includes clear recognition of same-sex couples as legal parents of children conceived through the use of donated sperm, eggs or embryos,” Lord Darzi told the House.

“This will mean, for example, that the woman who gives birth and her civil partner will both be recognised as the parents of a child conceived via assisted reproduction. At present, the partner would have to apply to adopt the child.

“Similarly, two men will be able to apply for a parental order to become parents of a child conceived through a surrogacy arrangement. At present, parental orders are open only to married couples.”

While the majority of peers chose to concentrate their speeches on the main provisions of the bill, several criticised the removal of the need for a father in the case of lesbian couples or single women receiving fertility treatment.

(Clause 14(2)(b) of the bill removes the reference in the previous 1990 Act to the child’s need for a father.)

The Conservative former Lord Chancellor, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, said:

“We should recognise that nature requires male material in a living human being as well as female.

“That should be recognised in considering the welfare of a human being about to be brought into the world regardless of whether that human being will ultimately have a father in any ordinary sense of the word, though a male who is within the framework of his society and friendship may well be the one who would be sufficient to satisfy the condition, as the evidence before us showed.”

Liberal Democrat Baroness Tonge defended the proposals on the grounds of equality.

“I say to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, that of course every child needs a biological father, thank goodness, but children can be brought up well without either parent in some circumstances,” she said.

“Two of my grandchildren have been brought up without a mother for the past three and a half years, but they have been surrounded by a loving family and a social network, the requirement for which is also mentioned in the 1990 Act and remains in the Bill.

“That network of support for any future child is more important than either parent; there must be a social network and an extended family.

“Our party has never discriminated against gay people, which is what this debate is really about, and we will therefore support the removal of those words.”

Baroness Deech, a former chair of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, acknowledged that “single women and gay couples receive IVF treatment at clinics and have children,” but argued that a child needs a father.

“The argument for removing it is that it is now public policy to treat all families equally and to avoid any discrimination between persons on grounds of gender and sexual orientation and because there are inconsistencies and unknowns in the way that the provision is applied.

“There is no need for a father, it is said, especially given that there is provision in the current Bill for two women to be the legal parents of a child.

“Does a child really not need a father? Clearly, the need for a mother remains unchallenged. It is implicit in the way that the law works. I think that a child needs a father.

“I would argue that the present law is not discriminatory. It applies to men and women: heterosexual couples, homosexual couples, married, cohabiting and others.

“Even if it were discriminatory, it is justified on the ground that the welfare of the child is paramount.

“There is a wealth of research showing that children need fathers, not just a parent. Children need to see complementary roles, the relationship between the sexes, a microcosm of society as they grow up.

“There is also research showing that children born to lesbian parents do well, but it is limited research, mostly carried out by one researcher in this country and of necessity the children are very young.

“Some research shows that those children suffer from the inevitably confused and secretive family relationships that occur.”

Lord Alton of Liverpool was also troubled by the impact on a child of being legally fatherless.

“As the Joint Committee rightly said, to deny to a child that he or she had a real biological father would be nothing short of the state colluding in a deception,” he told the House.

“An estimated 800,000 children in Britain already have no contact with their father. To deliberately add to that number is downright irresponsible. One of the deepest questions that we ask ourselves is, ‘Who am I?’

“The right to lineage affects us all, and uncertainty over parentage can profoundly unsettle people. The popularity of television programmes such as Who Do You Think You Are? illustrates the natural desire to know one’s family history.

“The guidance of the Oracle of Delphi to the Lydian King Croesus was that to be happy, he must know himself. That is true for us too.

“The Government’s decision to remove the reference to the “need for a father” from law and social policy is a huge error.

“Women should not be interrogated at IVF clinics about their sexual orientation or their marital status and many single women are loving and exceptionally good mothers, but the need for a father, and the right to know who he is, are the issues.”

Lord Jenkin of Roding raised a string of objections to the proposal to remove the requirement for a father from the law.

“My concern is about the right of a donor-conceived person to know his or her genetic origins,” he said.

“Do they have a right to be told? Is there a duty on parents to tell? What should go on the birth certificate? One point that was made to us was that, if a person is conceived by donor conception and the birth certificate shows someone else as the father, perhaps the husband of the wife, is not the state conniving in a deception?”

Baroness Williams of Crosby, who as Shirley Williams was a founder member of the SDP and a Labour cabinet minister. She urged the government to think again on the issue.

“I recognise, I have some friends and relatives in this position, that a pair of men or women, or for that matter a woman on her own, can be marvellous parents,” she told the House.

“That is not my main concern at the moment. My main concern is that research shows conclusively in fields such as education and educational achievement that a child who has a male model as well as a female model is likely to do considerably better than one who does not have that male model, because, as the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, so rightly said, our society is made up of men and women.

“They often have rather different approaches, even rather different language: women’s language is much more often associational, and men’s language is more often directly related to a particular issue.

“I believe that one of the ways forward for the family, it is no good thinking that we can go back to a traditional family structure of a very old fashioned kind, is that men and women alike have to bear a much greater part of the responsibility for raising children, for looking after elderly relatives, and for caring for those members of their family who are needy in one way or another.

“Traditionally, that has fallen largely to women, but it will be less true in future. Unless we give men a full sense of what it is to be a father, a member of a family, and a proud and in many ways very rich potential, we will simply find ourselves with more and more dysfunctional families.”

The Archbishop of York was more forthright in his criticisms.

“My Lords, I have said previously in your Lordships’ House that the severance of law from morality and religion has gone too far,” he said.

“Religion, morality and law were once intermingled, which helped to shape both the common law and the statutes of this land, and greatly influenced the way in which judges interpreted them.

“However, the law is now regarded purely as an instrument for regulating our personal affairs and as being completely severed from morality and religion. Provisions in the Bill demonstrate just how far the severance has gone and its unintended consequences.”

The Archbishop referred to the reported plot by Fathers 4 Justice to kidnap Tony Blair’s son Leo, and said its founder was “forced into campaigning because he was denied access overnight to a child whom he dearly loved and whom he believed loved and needed him.”

He attacked the government for emphasising the importance of male role models, then trying to “remove in its entirety the need for the ultimate male role model, that of the father.

“The Government posits their argument on the view of the Science and Technology Committee, expressed in its report of 2005, that the need for a father is “unjustifiably offensive”. To whom is it unjustifiably offensive?

“Is it unjustifiably offensive to the child who will be dependent upon the love and care of the father? Are the Government really saying that they are basing their response on whether the need for a father gives offence?

“The rationale given in the White Paper for removing the need of a child for a father was so as to appear not to discriminate against same-sex couples or single mothers who wanted to have a child through IVF.

“The Government’s response is based not on the welfare of the child but on the desire of those who feel that they should have a child as of right, without the need of a father.

“The right of a prospective parent to have a child by any means necessary must not triumph over the welfare of children brought into the world as a result of the treatment authorised under the current legislation.

“The Government are bowing to the argument that, if single people and gay and lesbian couples can legally adopt, the same permission must therefore be given if they wish to commission a child using IVF.

“That is a non-sequitur, because the situations are markedly different; in adoption, the hospitality of a home is being offered to already existing children who have had the misfortune, through circumstances or necessity, to lose or be removed from the constant love of their own parents.

“Bringing the care of an adoptive home to a needy child is a wholly different circumstance to deciding in advance to use IVF technology to bring into the world a child who will, by design, never have a father.”

The Archbishop said the legislation was: “rooted in a consumerist mentality in which the science that allows something to happen is transformed into the right to have it.

“The “cogito ergo sum” of Descartes: “I think therefore I am” becomes the consumerist mantra.

“”I shop therefore I am” or “Tesco ergo sum”.

“The competing individualist arias of “I, I, I” and “me, me, me” provide the mood music for an individualism that posits the right of a wannabe parent over the welfare of a child.

“This virus of individualistic consumerism which informs a rights-based mentality is alien to those of us who come from another place, Africa, where they say, “I am because we are: I belong therefore I am.””

Baroness Paisley of St George’s, wife of the DUP leader and First Minister of Northern Ireland Ian Paisley, has just begun her remarks that the bill “threatens not only human dignity but the family” and “totally disregards the biblical law on mixing species as laid down in Holy Scripture, and would be an offence to the Creator Himself who made man in His own image,” when the sitting was suspended as a peer had been taken ill.

According to The Independent:

“Lord Brennan collapsed shortly after delivering his speech.

“The 65-year-old QC was given a heart massage by, among others, Health Minister and leading surgeon Lord Darzi of Denham – who had himself opened the debate for the Government.

“Lord Brennan was treated in the Lords chamber by first aid and ambulance staff, using an oxygen mask and an intravenous drip, before being taken out on a stretcher and transferred to nearby St Thomas’s Hospital.”

The Lords will continue their debate on the second reading of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill today.