Bishop fails to stop same-sex parents as Embryology Bill passes final stage

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

The House of Lords voted in favour of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill on Wednesday, marking the end of its Parliamentary journey.

It will now go to the Queen for Royal Assent.

The debate featured several unpleasant assertions, among them that “some of those same-sex parents will have antipathy to the other sex.”

The Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham failed in an attempt to amend the legislation recognising same-sex couples as legal parents of children conceived through the use of donated sperm, eggs or embryos.

He argued that should not become law until after the publication of the results of an 18-month consultation with children and young people on the effects of these sections and then approved by a resolution of both Houses of Parliament.

“While the law cannot guarantee a present father, it would surely be quite wrong, in my view, for the state to put in place a legal framework to allow for the deliberate creation of children with the intention that they should be denied the chance of ever having a father throughout their childhood, yet this is precisely the effect of the clauses before us,” he told peers.

“The provision of an appropriate focused consultation exercise with children and young people would be entirely appropriate given the Government’s commitment to consult with children and young people in the Children’s Plan.

“Indeed, it seems to me that if the Government are to consult with children and young people on anything, they must surely talk to them about controversial proposals such as these which seek deliberately to create children with the intention that they be denied a father for the duration of their childhood and are vulnerable to the accusation that they have been developed out of regard for the interests of adults rather than children.”

Lord Waddington, a former Tory Home Secretary, described lesbian parents as a “legal fiction.”

“How can it be seriously argued that the right of two women to have a child is so strong that it completely overwhelms and drives out of court other people’s rights, in particular the rights of the child they insist on bringing into the world?” he said.

“One of the purposes of the Bill is to ensure that same-sex couples may produce a child by donor, the arrival of the child being the very object of the exercise.

“I believe that its human rights are as important, if not more important, than the rights of the same-sex couple.

“I shall certainly support the right reverend Prelate’s amendment, but must say that I find wholly objectionable the idea that by a legal fiction, a child should find itself with two women as its parents instead of a father and a mother.

“I do not believe that such a child’s human rights are being properly protected.”

Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Barker said the Bishop of Southwell’s wrecking amendment deserved to be rejected as “this legislation should reflect the fact that we now have civil partnerships in this country and that there are families of same-sex couples with children.”

“Some Members of this House do not accept the conclusions that the majority reached and would rather that civil partnerships did not exist,” she said.

“I think that some Members of this House would rather that gay people did not exist, but they do. They do.

“The whole point of this legislation was to ensure that children born into those families receive the same legal recognition and protection as other children.

“What will be achieved by doing what the right reverend Prelate asks?

“It will defer indefinitely protection for a very small group of children who live in families, meaning that they do not have the legal protection of both their parents.

“They will not be able to inherit property and financial support as other children do.”

Hereditary peer the Earl of Listowel claimed that lesbian parents can cause damage to children.

“A couple of years ago, I attended a course in child development,” he said.

“After one of the lectures I asked the lecturer his view on the very question that we are debating this evening.

“He said that he had no view but added that he was treating a young man who had been brought up in a same-sex partnership, by lesbian parents.

“He was treating the young man because those parents did not like men.

“They found men objectionable and considered them violent so this young man was recovering from an experience where his gender, his identity, was seen as objectionable in his own family.

“I hope that that is a one-off situation, but it is an interesting coincidence that the one time I asked the therapist that question, he pointed out that he was treating a young man who grew up in a same-sex partnership and had those issues.

“There must be a concern that at least some of those same-sex parents will have antipathy to the other sex.

“Does it not really reinforce the argument for ensuring as far as possible that there is at least a father figure for a son to turn to if he grows up in such a situation. That causes me concern.”

He claimed research by Cambridge Professor Susan Golombok proved gay parents raise gay kids.

“This is clearly important work.

“However, to the best of my recollection, it was rather a small sample of families and the age range of children examined was only up to the age of 18.

“I think that it was observed that, within the two groups—the control group with non-same-sex couples and the other group with same-sex couples—incidences of young people having same-sex relations as they were growing up occurred within the group that had same-sex parents, but did not occur in the couples that were a man and a woman together.”

For the government, Baroness Thornton defended the legislation and asked peers to vote against the amendment.

“Clause 42 brings the provisions for female civil partners into line with those for married couples,” she said.

“The Archbishop’s amendments—sorry, I mean the amendments proposed by the right reverend Prelate. I am giving him a promotion that I am sure he deserves.

“His amendments would delay, perhaps significantly, the commencement of the Bill’s provisions, but would enable both members of the same-sex couple to be recognised as the legal parents of a child born to them following assisted reproduction. To delay this would be unfair to the couple and also deprive the children of having two parents.

“The Bill protects the interests of the child by ensuring that it has two parents named on its birth certificate.

“A provision that would not give the child a father is simply removing the child’s second parent.

“This would not be in the child’s best interest and the Government are content that these provisions are compatible with the convention.

“Noble Lords may not approve of same-sex couples being parents but the fact is that they are parents, and they are good parents.

“The suggestion which has run as an undercurrent through this debate, that same-sex parents are of less value than mixed-sex parents, is quite offensive and incorrect.

“We have had these discussions many times and we know that opinion on these issues runs high in your Lordships’ House, but it is sad to suggest in this day and age that having two women as loving parents is somehow to deny a human right to a child.

“Clause 43 makes parenthood provisions for female couples who are not in a civil partnership where one of the women gives birth to a child following assisted conception treatment at a UK-licensed clinic.

“If valid female parenthood conditions are in place with the partner at the time of the conception of the child, the other woman will be treated as the parent of that child.

“The provisions in Clause 43 mirror those for unmarried heterosexual couples where the woman has a child as a result of assisted conception with donor sperm in a UK-licensed clinic.

“The effect of the amendments proposed by the right reverend Prelate would delay the enactment of these important clauses, which have been debated extensively in this House and at length in another place.

“I encourage the right reverend Prelate to withdraw the amendment, but if he decides to move it, I invite the House to resist it.

“Evidence presented to the Joint Committee of both Houses, for example, demonstrated that the emotional well-being and other aspects of development of children growing up in lesbian families are comparable to those in heterosexual families.

“Many noble Lords, including the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, have suggested that what is important is that children are brought up in loving, supportive families. It is unrealistic to suggest that that is an undesirable situation when that is what happens.

“We need to make sure that such children are not disadvantaged by the legal process through not having legitimate parents entered on their birth certificates.”

The Bishop’s amendment was put to a vote and defeated by 121 to 51.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill also provides equal access to fertility treatments for lesbian couples and single women by removing the requirement for doctors to consider the need for a father when deciding on treatment. They will now consider the need for supportive parenting.