Same-sex marriage has a dark secret: its potential for exploiting women in developing countries.
If we are in the middle of a culture war over gay marriage, why not take advice from someone who knows about combat, former US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld? Long after he left the scene, people are still quoting his description of the fog of war: “[T]here are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – there are things we do not know we don't know.”
Since gay marriage has existed only since 2001, when it was legalised in the Netherlands, the dangerous known knowns are still meagre and the dangerous known unknowns vast. As for the dangerous unknown unknowns: well, is anyone so rash as to say that they don’t exist?
How children fare probably fits into the known unknown category. Supporters of gay marriage insist that children can flourish with two parents of the same sex. There are even claims, based on tiny studies of lesbian parents, that gay parenting is superior to having a married Mom and Dad. Opponents have much more data backing up their case. A group called the American College of Pediatricians summed up the evidence recently:
“Over thirty years of research confirms that children fare best when reared by their two biological parents in a loving low conflict marriage. Children navigate developmental stages more easily, are more solid in their gender identity, perform better academically, have fewer emotional disorders, and become better functioning adults when reared within their natural family.”
However, in the unknown unknown category is where the children of homosexual men will come from. Once same-sex unions have been sanctified with the word “marriage”, some gay couples will have children. It’s understandable – marriage has always been about children.
But where from? If lesbian couples want children, all they need is a sperm donor and possibly the services of an IVF clinic – if they do not already have children from a failed relationship.
But it is vastly more complicated for gay couples. They may have children from a previous heterosexual relationship. They can foster or adopt. But some will want a child who is genetically related to them. They can provide half of what is needed, but they still need a womb – a surrogate mother.
No one has any idea how big the demand for gay surrogacy market. There are good reasons for that. Commercial surrogacy is illegal in many countries and where it is legal, it can be shameful. But we do have some idea of the supply of gay surrogacy. Thanks to the internet, surrogacy brokers are springing up all over the world – wherever there is poverty and sympathetic government regulation.
The United States has a number of surrogacy agencies, but the growth market seems to in the developing world where it is far cheaper. Click on the site AffordableSurrogates.com. It markets surrogates in Greece, Panama, and India. Click on surrogatemothers.biz for surrogate mothers from the Ukraine.
Through sites like these, babies are effectively being sold as a product. “Did you know that thousands of people are saving money by going to foreign countries to have a child through hassle-free surrogacy?” Affordable Surrogates asks its gay clients. Another site specialising in gay clients, Advocates for Surrogacy, advertises Guatemalan women who cost 70 percent less than their US counterparts.
The best-known destination for people seeking surrogate mothers is India. Light regulation there allows IVF clinics to have herds of surrogate mothers available for their overseas clients, including gay couples. It is there that the dark side of gay parenting is most evident. Exploitation of surrogate mothers in India is not an unknown unknown. It is a known known.
This was exposed in the death of a 30-year-old Indian woman with two children of her own, Premila Vaghela, earlier this month. She died in the eighth month of her pregnancy of unexplained complications after collapsing in her IVF clinic, Pulse Women's Hospital, in Ahmedabad, in the state of Gujarat. The doctors at Pulse quickly did an emergency caesarean. The child was given to the American woman who commissioned it.
In the quaint lingo of the Indian media, it was noted that "Premila paid the price of offering herself as surrogate with her life.” She was to have been paid about US$4,500, although the clinic generously gave her family US$18,000.
The fate of Mrs Vaghela is a stark reminder that death is one of the hazards of being a surrogate mother. Not that it seems to bother IVF doctors there much. The hard-boiled woman boss of an unrelated clinic, Dr Nayana Patel, commented:
“the contracts signed between the surrogate mother and the couple (whose baby she is carrying) does not talk of any compensation in case of death of the surrogate mother. Those who agree to become surrogates are told well in advance about the complications involved in pregnancy.”
It’s unlikely that the clients of the surrogate mothers ever read the contract to which these women – who may be illiterate – put their signature or mark. They are incredibly exploitative. The pro-forma contract displayed by the Pulse Hospital on its website is loaded in favour of the genetic parents and the hospital against the surrogate mother.
The woman has to agree to the most intrusive limitation of her lifestyle and even to accept foetal reduction (see Pulse's video) if necessary. Since up to three embyros are transferred at a time -- not international best practice -- this is quite possible.
The contract also states that "the Surrogate and her Husband agree to assume all medical, financial, and psychological risks and to release, the Genetic Parents, their attorney(s), the Treating Doctor, other professionals contemplated herein and/or involved in any aspect of the surrogacy arrangement, and each said person's agents and employees from any legal liability except professional malpractice (malfeasance or negligence)."
In short, a surviving spouse can only seek compensation if he can prove negligence on the doctor's part. His chances of success will be vanishingly small.
In a chilling section of the contract headed "life support", the surrogate and her husband agree that "if she is seriously injured or suffers a life‐threatening instance during her third trimester of pregnancy", then she "will be sustained with life support equipment to protect the fetus' viability and insure [sic] a healthy birth on the Genetic Parents' behalf".
Forget about altruism. Indian surrogate mothers endure these insults to their dignity for the cash. "Surrogacy has picked up majorly all over Gujarat," notes the Times of India. "The decent money offered by couples, majority of who are NRGs [Non Resident Gujarati]and foreigners, attracts many women from poor socio-economic backgrounds."
The local government benefits from the exploitation of these women as well. Ironically, the government English-language magazine promoting Gujarat, “The Gujarat”, currently features a promotional article on the booming surrogacy business in Anand: “Where the storks dare to fly... Bringing smiles to couples across the world via Reproductive Tourism”.
“The state has set a precedent in embracing humanist ideas by facilitating reproductive tourism which has proved to be immensely valuable. Apart from empowering the surrogates, it is bringing in a lot of revenue for the state itself, furthering its development,” writes the author.
Conditions for surrogate mothers in Guatemala or Panama or the Ukraine are unlikely to be any better.
Supporters of same-sex marriage have to face the stark fact that legalisation will mean misery for women in developing countries. Perhaps death will be rare. But it will certainly happen. Are gay couples ready to force women to have selective abortions? Are they ready to accept that some women will die bearing a child they paid for? Are they ready to accept the degradation and exploitation that are inherent in their dream of being married?
Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet.