I was recently sent a screener of CNN's upcoming broadcast of Gary and Tony Have a Baby (which airs at 8pm on Thursday). In it, Soledad O'Brien walks us through the lives of Gary Spino and Tony Brown as they attempt to conceive a child through surrogacy. Bil Browning of the Bilerico Project has already highlighted some glaring criticisms of the piece, including its continued presumption of wealth and whiteness of the gay community. While I'm usually the first one to jump on the anti-bourgeois bandwagon, I'll let Bil's critique stand on its own. I am interested in the question of ethics and surrogacy, and why I will only ever adopt if I want to start a family.

There is a trend in the media and the communal dialogue around queer families which has begun to postulate that having children via surrogacy is more desirable, more natural, or more socially acceptable than adoption (at least amongst gay couples). From Gary and Tony Have a Baby, to Kevin and Scotty's odyssey in impregnating their surrogate in ABC's Brothers and Sisters, surrogacy for gay men is increasingly being sold as the BMW of baby making. But what are the real consequences and costs of these decisions? Surrogacy is still a relatively uncommon practice for gay men, but I bet if you polled gay male couples today whether they'd prefer to have a child through surrogacy or adoption, I bet that surrogacy would come out on top.

The Economic Imperative

Babies cost money. There's no question about that. The US Department of Agriculture estimates that a family making around $70k will spend over a quarter million dollars ($269,520 to be precise) raising a child from birth to age 17. And that's only if you have all the working parts needed for baby making (i.e. sperm, egg, and gestational carrier). Straight folk get off easy (assuming everyone's bits are working properly), and lesbians can get by since they usually own the hardware (the gestational carrier) and only need a relatively easy-to-procure component. Having a baby becomes more costly and complicated for gay men because they typically only have access to only one of the three components to make a baby, the sperm.

With the knowledge that raising even one child is an enormous task, emotionally and economically, it comes to bear that the health of a family and the child to be is greatly affected by a family's ability to take on those childcare costs. It would stand, that it is in the interest of the child that a couple looking to make an addition to the family has the largest amount of disposable income possible to assure the best quality of life for the child. It therefore becomes economically irresponsible for a couple to spend exorbitant sums of money in the procurement of a child before it even exists. The economic imperative then becomes for families to have children in whichever manner is the most economically efficient (within reason of course).

For most heterosexual couples this course of action is relatively straight forward. It costs virtually nothing for a fertile man to impregnate a fertile woman. Throw in a few dollars for some lube and a copy of the kama sutra, and wham, bham, thank you ma'am... you got a baby. Lesbian couples have the most expensive components of the babymaking process (eggs and gestational carrier), so the cost of a vial of sperm from an fertility agency runs about $180-$250. Overall, relatively negligible. However, for gay male couples the options for expanding their families are much more costly.

The average cost of an international adoption is between $20,000 and $45,000. The cost falls with domestic adoptions which usually run in the $20,000-$25,000 range. And the cost to adopt via the foster care system is virtually nothing (although the foster system comes with its own risks).

The cost of surrogacy on the other hand are astronomical in comparison. According to my internet sleuthing I found that most surrogacy births run total costs between $60,000 to $80,000 in a best case scenario. However Gary and Tony reportedly spent over $110,000 in their quest for a surrogacy birth. Gary and Tony have effectively increased their childcare costs by over 40%... before their child was even born.

Some might say that if you have the money, than you should be free to spend it however you like. While I agree with that to a large extent, it is important to acknowledge the opportunity costs of that choice. $110,000 in surrogacy costs is $110,000 you're not putting towards a college fund for your kid, or investing in your child's healthcare should any medical complications arise. A safety fund of $110,000 is an enormous boon to a child and its parents. So when a couple decides to opt for surrogacy over other methods, it's important to ask what they are giving up.

The Legal Quagmire

Legally speaking, surrogacy, especially for gay couples, is extremely complex and a veritable minefield of legal nightmares. From the get go, eleven states in the US outlaw surrogacy outright (including Gary and Tony's native New York). On top of that laws covering parental rights, adoption, and family law are increasingly complicated as states attempt to define where their jurisdictions lie. Take a look at this example from about.com's Deborah Wald:

"Now look at this same scenario for a gay couple. Ohio is a "super-DOMA" state, having passed a statute providing that: "The recognition or extension by the state of the specific statutory benefits of a legal marriage to nonmarital relationships between persons of the same sex or different sexes is against the strong public policy of this state...." Under Ohio law, a married couple using a gestational carrier would be able to claim parentage from birth, based on a combination of genetics and marital presumptions. A gay couple will not be able to make this same claim in Ohio, because of the Ohio DOMA; nor does Ohio allow adoptions by gay couples. So a gay couple using an Ohio surrogate will have to establish legal parentage for at least one of the intended fathers in a different state. Since surrogacy is completely illegal in New York, New York probably isn't an option. Many surrogacy agencies and attorneys in California will encourage the couple to use the California courts to establish their parentage. But given that the couple's only contact with California is their decision to use a California surrogacy agency, it is highly questionable whether California courts actually have jurisdiction over the case.

Take another example: A gay male couple chooses to contract with a gestational carrier in a state that allows gestational surrogacy. This state has a statute providing that the mother-child relationship can be established by a woman giving birth or by DNA tests. For a straight couple in this situation, the intended mother will generally also be the genetic mother (i.e. she will have had her own eggs fertilized and implanted in the gestational carrier), so both women will have legal claims to maternity. In these cases, the intended mother almost always wins due to genetics and/or the original intent of the parties. However, for the gay male couple, the gestational carrier will be the only woman with a claim to maternity, and if she wishes to assert this claim it is not at all clear that intent for the child to have two fathers will defeat this claim - especially in a state that is less-than-hospitable to gay families."

As you can see, it is incredibly easy for any of these legal proceedings to become complicated by unexpected events by any party involved. In Gary and Tony's case it seems to have gone quite smoothly, but what would have happened if either the genetic mother or the gestational mother had refused to sign over their maternity rights? The law is very unclear on how such a dispute would be settled, and there have already been cases where gestational carriers or egg donors have sued for custody and parental rights for children years after the birth. There is very little concrete legal action that can protect a gay couple absolutely from these kinds of legal threats.

The Human Rights Crisis

While questions of the darker side of the surrogacy industry are still being investigated and brought to light, the industry as a whole is relatively young and therefore the fears about issues like human trafficking for surrogacy are low as of now. However, as costs of healthcare and thus surrogacy rise in the post-industrial West, capitalism works its natural course and has already begun to outsource its surrogacy costs to the developing world.

According to multiple press outlets, including the Affiliated Press, the practice of "surrogate farming" is a rapidly growing industry in India, where large groups of women are brought together to act as surrogates for couples looking to adopt. The regulations around this industry are virtually non-existent. And as Indian women become increasingly desperate as environmental and economic pressures force them from their rural communities, the fears about possible human trafficking for surrogates grows. Currently, companies like Surrogacy Abroad only bill couples $20,000 for the total costs - a price that pails in comparison to Gary and Tony's $110,000 price tag.

The implications of a "rent-a-womb" scenario in India is a dangerous one, yet unfortunately follows in step with much of the trends of outsourcing have been. Developed countries outsource the risks and costs of a trade that has become to menial or costly to produce domestically and therefore turn to the developing world to take on the burdens it no longer wishes to hold. By engaging in the increasingly popular outsourcing of pregnancy, surrogacy literally paves a way for colonizing women's bodies in developing countries and reaping their fruits with far reduced pay.

Radicalism qua Traditionalism

In Gary and Tony Have a Baby, Soledad O'Brien glibly comments that the most radical thing a gay couple can do right now is to have a baby, a very traditional act. I would challenge the notion that two men raising a baby is a progressive radical act, and rather much more of a regressive act of assimilation. Much in the same way that the gay marriage crowd likes to claim that gay marriage will solve a bevy of ills which plague the gay community (including promiscuity, STD and HIV infection rates, homophobia, discrimination, etc.) much of this rhetoric emulates similar marriage rhetoric that came out of the 1950s.

Heterosexual marriage advocates during the 1950s and earlier had long argued that marriage was an essential part of their society's fabric. That marriage provided a stabilizing force with which to tame the free-wheeling and uncontrollable passions of the working man. Where an unmarried man might be less committed to his job because he only needs to support himself, a married man is chained to his job because he bears responsibility for his entire family. So it became widely spread that a married man was a more stable, more employable, and more desirable. And now, 60 some years later, we are getting the same rhetoric shoved down our throats by the gay mainstream.

This same rhetoric of radical traditionalism is being applied here to surrogacy. That by creating families that replicate the nuclear model of father, mother, and genetically congruous children, we generate more equality for our community. However, this "return to normalcy" is in fact an attempt to emulate a model which was structured to cause workers to be more reliant on their employers and to transfer power from individuals to corporations.

The Death of Chosen Families

One of the queer movement's responses to the sickeningly cookie-cutter life of 1950s America was the generation of the idea of chosen families. These were families that were determined not by kinship, biology, or genetics. They were created organically and intentionally. These families were made up of close, life long friendships which surpassed the thresholds of mere sex or romance, but were deep, committed, and in the end life-saving relationships that arguably brought the gay community through the AIDS crisis.

By returning to a model where kinship is king, genetics are golden, and biology is best, we simultaneously destroy one of the most powerful and radical developments of our community - the notion that our families are not pre-determined fixed relationships. Family is what we make of it. Family is who we choose to love and who we choose to commit to. Our families can come in all kinds of shapes and sizes to address all kind of needs and responsibilities.

But now as the mainstream gay community flocks to the dream of gay marriage and surrogacy-generated families, it becomes very clear that the actual radical family models that were hard fought for by our forebears in the queer community is all but lost on the new generation.


While Gary and Tony have every right to create a family using whichever method they desire, I caution us against viewing their experience as the archetype for gay male couples. As Bil Browning has already discussed, the vast majority of gay male couples have children through adoption (either international, domestic or through the foster system). Even CNN acknowledged this fact in their special, citing that Gary and Tony will join only roughly 1,000 other gay men who have had a child via surrogacy. 1,000 people, not 1,000 couples even.

Surrogacy is indeed a relative rarity, not only due to its exorbitant costs, but also because of its other problematic elements. And on top of all of this, adoption saves lives. There are so many children born into the world without loving homes that for gay couples seeking children to choose a process which depletes their resources and the well-being of their child-to-be, further traditionalizes the radical queer movement, and deprives an already living child of a loving home, is (at least for me) personally unconscionable.

That is why I will only ever adopt.

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