Stonewall ready for Commons battle over gay parents

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

Gay equality organisation Stonewall has said that new legislation before Parliament that will grant new rights to gay and lesbian parents will face further attempts to wreck it in the Commons.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill proposes new recognition of same-sex couples as legal parents of children conceived through the use of donated sperm, eggs or embryos.

The Bill was passed by the Lords on Monday and now goes to the House of Commons.

It proposes that a woman who gives birth and her civil partner will both be recognised as the parents of a child conceived through assisted reproduction.

Two men will be able to apply for a parental order to become parents of a child conceived through a surrogacy arrangement.

In a letter to supporters Ben Summerskill, the chief executive of Stonewall, said:

“I’m delighted to be able to let you know that, on Monday evening, the House of Lords passed the new Fertilisation Embryology Bill.

“Once again, the Bill has exposed some deeply unpleasant prejudices among members of the House of Lords.

“But it also saw some deeply moving speeches from supporters, including Lord Alli, Lady Howarth and Lord Carlile.

“The Bill now has to go to the House of Commons (because it started its parliamentary passage in the Lords).

“Without a doubt, we’ll face the same bogus arguments against equality that we’ve seen during the last few weeks.

“There will be further attempts to wreck it.”

Mr Summerskill said that the new legislation would end “the patronising requirement for fertility clinics to cross-examine lesbian couples about their parental arrangements.”

At present fertility clinics are required to consider the “need for a father” when deciding on treatment.

During debate on the proposal to replace the responsibility entrusted to clinics with the need for “supportive parenting,” Lord Tebbit, the former Tory Cabinet minister, said:

“A child’s life prospects are better if it grows up in a family, with a father and a mother, than if it lacks either of them. In general, these are indisputable facts.

“This Bill concentrates so much on the alleged right of a mother to have a child that it forgets the right of a child to have a pair of parents, a mother and a father.

“As for human rights law, do not children have human rights? Does not an unborn child have rights?”

Lord Alli, one of two openly gay peers, spoke in favour of lesbian and gay parents:

“The consideration of the potential need for a father should not outweigh the assessment of whether potentially a lesbian gay couple would make good parents or whether a single woman would make a good parent,” he said.

“It is with some regret that I read some of the claims made during Second Reading about the endurability of same-sex relationships and the suitability of lesbian and gay people as parents.

“This is a narrow and specific question, not a broader one of fatherhood. No one is trying to replace the father. It will not deter many of these women from having children. It will simply drive them away from the services they pay for and have a right to expect.”

Perhaps the most impressive speech was from Lib Dem peer Lord Carlile.

He spoke about his daughter, who is in a civil partnership and has two children.

“The daughter in question, my middle daughter, is a solicitor, and her partner is an accountant. They are, if they will forgive me, as square as a box,” he explained to his fellow peers.

“They live in a provincial town in England, in a splendid semi-detached house with double-glazed new windows and a Vauxhall Zafira sitting in the drive.

“Their child, my grandson, is the picture of health and his parents are morally exemplary.

“They happen to be married to each other through a civil partnership and they are both female.

“My daughter and her partner became parents by going to a well-run, highly-respected fertility clinic.

“My daughter and her civil partner have many friends who have been through the same process, and I have met several of them.

“They are typical of such couples: respectable, decent, honest and rather squarer than the prejudices held by many about such couples.

“They abhor the idea of people going on the black market to dishonest fertilisers, sperm donors, who already exist in this country.

“They are unregulated, the health risks are enormous, and they can be accessed via the internet. If same-sex couples like my daughter and daughter-in-law are driven on to the black market for sperm donors, we will have a health disaster on our hands.

“I urge your Lordships to hold back from imposing what are really old prejudices, however conscientiously felt, on the modern world of civil partnerships.

“To those of us who have walked in and out of prisons, in and out of courtrooms whether as advocates or judges, who have been Members of the other place and have had large numbers of people coming to see us week after week privately about their personal problems, I say this: in the real world, what is offered by conscientious same-sex couples probably exceeds in quality the majority of what is offered even by heterosexual couples.

“There is no reason to discriminate against them. So I invite noble Lords to remember that we are in 2008. We need to recognise the reality of our modern age.”

As a government Bill, the legislation is almost certain to be approved by the Commons, but some Christian MPs have raised objections to the new rights for gay and lesbian parents.

Iain Duncan Smith, a former leader of the Tory party, said in November that the proposals remove the need for a father and therefore threaten society.

“Another nail will have been hammered into the coffin of the traditional family and another blow will have been struck against fatherhood,” he wrote in the Mail on Sunday.

“This move could not have come at a worse time.

“Just as we are beginning to appreciate the vital role fathers play in the successful upbringing of children, Labour ministers are sending out the utterly wrong signal that fathers don’t matter.”