At the Heart of This Ugly Legal Scrap, a New-Born Treated as a Must-Have Accessory; COMMENTARY

Article excerpt


WITH its As, Xs, Ys and Zs, sperm donors , gay brothers and marriages of convenience, even highly qualified Sheriff Laura Duncan had her work cut out yesterday at Glasgow Sheriff Court.

But at the heart of this sordid and disturbing story of haggling over visiting rights and exactly what constitutes a family unit, is a small, innocent baby. We should never forget that Baby A is a human being, not a piece of 'legal literature'.

Baby A, too young at 18 months to tell us what he thinks, finds himself pitched into a world of legal contortions in which two women professing to have his best interests at heart both want to be called 'Mummy', in which his father is a gay sperm donor and in which his unorthodox parentage has been put on public display in a court of law. Starts in life do not come much worse than this.

Baby A's only comfort is that although the circumstances of his birth and upbringing to date are particularly messy, he is not alone. Gay men and women, who once would have accepted childlessness as just part and parcel of their sexuality, now expect - even demand - to have children. In order to make their own personal dream come true, they either adopt (very difficult) or get other people to help. The result is that an increasing number of children born into the world without those fundamental building blocks of identity: A mother, a father and siblings born to the same parents as they were themselves. Instead they have a mishmash of 'parents'.

Complicated families are, of course, not new. From earliest times, daughters have been passed off as sisters, fathers as uncles and children as being the offspring of men with whom, if DNA tested, they would have no blood connection whatsoever. But these children were usually the result of mistakes and their parents sought above all not to make the children objects of curiosity. All that has now vanished. When a gay couple from Essex can put both their names in the box marked 'father' on the birth certificates of twin babies they ordered from different women using eggs from other women; when women can order semen over the Internet specifying what type of 'father' they wish their child to have; when lesbians, as in this latest case, can pick up a sperm donor in a nightclub, we have moved into a different world, a world in which the ruling by Sheriff Duncan that a lesbian couple cannot constitute a family unit in Scots law looks increasingly shaky. …