The Jerusalem Post has an interesting opinion piece on the same-sex surrogacy debate that is raging in Israel. While I found the original article to be a bit glib in how it characterized the desire of gay couples to have children, the comment section reveals a surprisingly repugnant intolerance:
One thing people don’t really understand about Israel is that it’s a very non-traditional place. I’m not saying that people are more open and less conservative here, but referring to a sense of real tradition. Our societal institutions here are relatively new – 100 years maximum – so everything is questionable and therefore ever so changeable.
Twenty years ago, parents were not happy if their child turned out to be gay, because they thought it meant they would never have grandchildren. For Israelis, that’s a real curse. But things have changed, and the new trend in Tel Aviv now is “gay with kids.” Sometimes, there are so many gay dads strolling down Rothschild Boulevard, you might think you’re on a film set.
But the truth is that Israelis are very trend-oriented. The minute gay couples having children became a real option it turned into a flood. The birthday present gay men want when they reach 30 these days is beginning the process of becoming a father. And if they don’t, their parents start pushing. “You should have a child while we are still young and can help you” is the mantra.
For the single gay man, the first option available to become a father is to pair up with a straight single woman – usually over 40 – who wants to become a mother. The creation of these gay-straight alliances are sometimes not without complications, especially around the time of birth. But usually within a year everything falls into place. And surprisingly enough, the option that would seem easier and more logical – having a baby with a lesbian woman or a couple – is less common.
But the option everybody’s talking about now is surrogacy. Until five years ago, this option was only available to much wealthier men who could afford the high standards of the US. The big fear was that in cases of premature birth, the bills for the incubation period would be monstrous. Still, more and more couples were starting to use North America as a nesting area.
The next step was India. It started little by little but in two years it turned into a flood. A gay Israeli entrepreneur named Doron Mamet went with his spouse to Delhi to have twin kids. When they returned to Israel, they established a company that now gives surrogacy services to Israeli couples, most of them gay men. Within three years, the company had placed almost 100 babies with gay Israeli couples.
ALL WENT well until a year ago, when a religious, right-wing judge together with the Eli Yishai-led Interior Ministry decided that in order to bring home babies from abroad, both fathers would have to go through DNA tests. This led to a big demonstration and public pressure, but it also frightened a few gay couples, and brought the realization to the community that things could not remain the same.
The legal situation today in Israel is that surrogacy is only allowed only for straight people. But there is movement to change the law. Due to a campaign a few years ago led by former Tel Aviv Municipality councilman Itai Pinkas and his spouse Yoad Arad, there is a government committee that is looking into this matter, and scheduled to give its recommendations in February.
Meanwhile, a young couple, Moshe Laniado and Gal Peleg, started a Facebook campaign to change the law so that gay couples can use a surrogate mother in Israel. Within a week, they went from the Web to the real world, organizing a vibrant meeting attended by over 200 people at the Tel Aviv Gay Center. They received plenty of news coverage and and support, but soon found out that their real opponents would come from feminist circles.
What the young gays were not aware of is the fact that many feminist groups regard surrogacy as exploitation of poor women. The award-winning documentary Google Baby by Zippi Brand Frank, which showed the way women in India are almost prisoners during pregnancy, did not help to change this attitude. Some feminists believe that gay people, more than others, should be aware of this aspect of surrogacy. But most of these women are afraid to make their opinions public since gay men have a very strong lobby and the women fear they will be tarred with the epithet “homophobe.”
So now everybody is waiting for the committee. A Facebook demonstration/ event was canceled last week at the last minute because organizers decided it might upset the committee members. But if the government committee decides against allowing gay surrogacy, you can be sure the Israeli media will become a war zone.
Meanwhile, if you really want to see something, go to the Landver coffee shop at the Tel Aviv Gay Center on a Friday afternoon and you’ll find a new demographic category being created – kids who have more then one dad.