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Friday, 8 March, 2002, 10:41 GMT
Equal parental rights for gay people?
Child's hand
A sheriff has called for clarification of the legal rights for same-sex couples after delivering a landmark ruling.

Sheriff Laura Duncan awarded a gay man who fathered a child for a lesbian couple the same rights as a heterosexual father.

In her written judgement at Glasgow Sheriff Court, she ruled that a lesbian couple cannot constitute a family unit.

The 30-year-old man, who cannot be named for legal reasons, had turned to the courts after disagreements with the couple over access to the 18-month-old boy.

The couple, who wanted legal recognition for the mother's partner, had argued that the man was just a sperm donor.

Here are your views on the issue.

It seems some here have clouded the issue on whether homosexuals make bad parents or whether homosexuality is wrong. Personally I am astounded that for so many of you being so eloquent you are such homophobic bigots. Live and let live. Oh and Alasdair from Scotland, I am a Christian too
Linda, England

It is so important for people in a non-traditional arrangement to make prior legal commitments through lawyers, contracts, parental rights documents. But ultimately, when a judge arbitrarily decides that a lesbian couple does not constitute a family, all the thoughtful preparation in the world will come to nothing.

All of these arguments about gay people being unable to conceive in the context of their sexuality and that being a sign of their unfitness to parent is insulting to the loving people who cannot conceive and have chosen to adopt. These are ridiculous and ignorant arguments.
Paulie Rainbow, USA

To Phil, UK: One cannot assume a homosexual lives a certain lifestyle. Is there only one "straight" lifestyle? No, there are many, just like there are among gays. You have no right to box people into neat little categories. Franklin of Takoma Park, Maryland, makes a good point. Since you assume homosexuality is "apparently chosen", why don't you tell us about when you chose to be straight? I'll bet you can't do it. Surely people can decide whom to have sex with, but gays should not have to give up sex and love because some narrow minded people think it's yucky. Open your mind and free yourself.
Sequoia, New Mexico, USA

When did "Christian" become synonymous with "bigot"? Why must so-called Christians slow progress towards a more equal caring society with their hatred of anything different. Who cares if parents are gay, straight or whatever so long as they love their children. Christians should stop interpreting the Bible in a way that suits them and start living as Christians should. I am ashamed to share a country with these people.
Dave, Scotland

It is about time that the United Kingdom entered the modern age with modern legal provisions.

Having studied law and gender in an international context, and as a British citizen currently resident in Sweden, I find this "landmark" judgement remarkably not so. The judgement seems to have taken a step back to not allowing same-sex couples the right to children. This is hugely damaging to the plight of many same-sex couples who have been fighting for years to become legal parents of "their" children. In this case the father should not be denied access, however the lesbian couple should also have joint parental rights. Why should people be denied the right to a child when the only barrier is a physical one? Everyone would object to denying an infertile couple the right to a child, so why deny a same-sex couple? Which leads us onto the issue of adoption. In Sweden at the moment legislation is being passed to allow adoption by same-sex couples. I personally can't see why the attitudes and legislation of Sweden should not be transferred to the United Kingdom. Obviously there has to be strict regulation on same-sex adoption, I don't suggest that the requirements should be at all simple to fulfil. On the same lines I believe that same-sex parentage is perfectly acceptable, but it should be regulated to make allowances for the natural father or mother. If there was a legal way for same-sex couples to have children with a third party then the present case would be irrelevant. It is about time that the United Kingdom entered the modern age with modern legal provisions.
Riina, Sweden

Alasdair, the media and the world have the right to read, hear and indeed heed your thoughts if they choose. These individuals live their own lives according to their rules. If these rules are those they believe to be in accordance with the untwisted word of a God or Gods, I neither know nor care. In this case the gentleman in question has every right to have access to his child regardless of the status of his relationship with the child's natural mother. The parents' sexuality, the status of their relationship, the circumstances under which the child was conceived and the sex of the partners are irrelevant. Similarly, the child has the absolute right of access to its natural parents. The court has made the correct decision. However, it is clearly apparent that these selfish individuals should have thought more clearly about the implications of bringing this child into the world. Unfortunately, whilst the particular circumstances of this case make it newsworthy, these same arguments are all too common. I fear that far too many parents never learn or understand the lesson that a child is for life, not just for Christmas on both sides. Society must seek to ensure that everyone, gay, straight or indifferent know and accept that the responsibilities and rights of a parent extend beyond the convenience of one or the other being a mother, father, husband, wife, egg donor, sperm donor, a willing womb or just a plain good time sexual partner. It is a shame that nature did not ensure the umbilical cord was used to tie the parents together and could not be cut. Perhaps then they would both take their roles more seriously.
Desmond Harte, UK

Why exactly is there a problem? As long as the child is loved does it really matter?
Jennie, UK

Having a child is not just a simple quick decision. There are responsibilities, and once the baby is born, there is the realisation that he or she shares the same genes as you, may have many of your characteristics and is effectively a part of you. I can understand that someone may want to help another person to have a child, and initially, giving up some sperm may not seem a major thing. However, once the child is conceived and begins to grow the realisation that another human being with your genes and characteristics is about to enter the world will evoke very strong feelings. If you are aware of your involvement, you would not want to be excluded. I would imagine that the judge in this case had a very hard time reaching a decision. I think that to say same sex relationships are not the right environment to raise a child is very unfair as many psychologist believe that sexual orientation is an inborn characteristic that emerges during adolescence. If this is true, being raised by a gay parent would not affect a child's sexuality, but would only give them a wider and more diverse understanding of society. However, as they were aware of their sperm donor and requested his involvement - and bearing in mind the strong maternal feelings that they must have themselves - they should be able to identify with the sperm donor/father.
Julie North, Britain

The claim by the judge that a lesbian couple is not a family unit has to be shameful. However, the biological father should still bear the responsibilities of fatherhood along with appreciating the benefits, and I believe it mature and most responsible that he has been prepared to confirm these duties to the child through the eyes of the law. Anyway, who is to say three parents are not better than two or one?
Rich, UK

I find it hard to give equal rights to same sex partners when males do not even have equal rights

Ruaridh Shuttleworth
Having read all the comments concerning the child's right to be brought up by a "family", no-one has considered the damage done by the "natural" parent(s) dumping the child and hoping they have someone to look after them. My mother was a single parent in the late 40's and left me at a children's home. I could only be fostered in case she came back. I can tell you so-called "Christians" that I grew up in a strict Baptist household and to this day that has not been my lot in life. I can see why my mother did what she did, I wonder who my father was. I thought long and hard about having children myself and decided that I would be too "smothering" a parent, trying to give them something I didn't have as a child. To end, it seems very odd that children of religious parents seem to go off the rails or, like me, are gay. Anyone in a stable gay relationship should have the right to choose. The donor of sperm to a "sperm bank" to help heterosexuals doesn't have the right to be part of the life of the children he produced. He is guaranteed to be nameless. No doubt he may, after thinking, wonder how his child is getting on.
Jack, UK

Homosexuality is wrong and always will be. The child will be corrupted and no amount of PC posturing will alter the facts. It seems that Scotland is quickly accelerating towards becoming a little PC Republic. It will end up with the people it deserves.
Graham, Scotland

As a parent (who happens to be gay) I take my responsibilities extremely seriously. From my experiences growing up and knowing how much intolerance still exists in the UK, I may well worry about my daughter's well-being far too much. I'm glad to see the father in this case is willing to take responsibility. Far too many don't - be they gay, straight or somewhere in between.
Paul, London

With regard to Andrew and Alasdair's comments: Not everyone believes in your God. Since he has only an unverifiable or imaginary existence your critical and ill-founded belief that no child can grow up healthily unless it has your requisite "mum and dad" is ridiculous. If I were a child I would rather have parents that were sentient, loving and nurturing and gay, than your typical "Christian" who usually is narrow minded, vindictive, sententious and judgemental - as you both have so ably demonstrated. Perhaps, for once, you should leave the judging to someone more qualified.
Amanda Bradley, UK/USA

What would happen if the mother left a male partner and moved in with another man? Would the natural father get access? Yes. There shouldn't be any difference, that's equality. I find it hard to give equal rights to same sex partners when males do not even have equal rights. Let's have equal rights for mothers and fathers first, then move onto the rest.
Ruaridh Shuttleworth, Scotland

humans should not be refused the right to be a parent because of their sexuality

Andrew asks "could we stoop lower as a society?" Yes, we could follow the Bible (literally) and stone those convicted of adultery. What this child (like all children) needs is a loving caring environment. That is all the law should be concerned with.
Richard, England

To deny a natural father access to a child for no good reason can only damage a child's upbringing. What would these women do in the future when the child asked who and where its father is? Whose feelings and interests are they putting first? One has to question whether they are fit to raise a child. As for the sheriff's decision that same sex couples cannot constitute a family unit, she is ignoring a wealth of evidence which show children can have a happy family life with parents of the same sex. These two women are the exception not the rule.
George, UK

Alasdair, Scotland: When you talk of reading the Bible, I assume you mean those passages which include the Purity Laws. Well first of all, do you obey all of them - including the ones about the types of material used to make clothes? I doubt it. People tend to use the Bible to reinforce their own prejudicial views and ignore the rest for the sake of convenience. Secondly, Jesus himself overrode the Purity Laws. As a committed Christian myself, I cannot accept your argument as it is deeply flawed and heretical and we as Christians for too long have done gay and lesbian people a great injustice. Although comments on what constitutes a family in this ruling seem out of place, I'm glad that we are moving closer to stopping discriminating against our fellow human beings on the grounds of their sexual orientation.
Kenneth, Scotland

The logic eludes me. Surely a necessary consequence of homosexuality is an inability to breed? Desire for children would therefore seem to indicate an unwillingness to live in the apparently chosen lifestyle.
Phil, UK

I think the sheriff was right in her decision. This issue deserves a full public debate and a ruling by the Scottish Parliament, rather than just a single sheriff.
Ben, UK

Alasdair, as a Christian you should know that it is not your place to judge others. And Chris, many couples can't have children for many reasons, should we ban IVF too? Or just cancel their rights as parents? As for beliefs that children need two parents of a different sex, then what are your opinions of single parents? Is that okay as long as the parent isn't gay? What children actually need in their lives is love and understanding, irrelevant of whether this is from a straight, gay, male or female role model. Men can rape women and in effect produce a child. Does that give that man the right to be a parent? This whole issue is much broader and humans should not be refused the right to be a parent because of their sexuality.
Vicky, England

I find the true pattern for child rearing in the Bible, and pity the innocent child who is in the middle of this disturbing case

Justifying discrimination against homosexuals by the Bible is pure idiocy. Welcome to the 21st century. We know a lot more about human sexuality now than we did 2,000 years ago, and blindly following an arguably fictional book is not a good quality. To those of you "Christians" who claim homosexuals have chosen to go against God, I have a question for you. Do you remember the day you decided to be straight instead of gay? It doesn't happen that way. Gay parents should absolutely have the same rights as straight parents. I live in a community with many gay couples with children, and their kids seem perfectly well adjusted.
Franklin, Takoma Park, Maryland

It seems that the three people involved in this story came together to form an alternative family for their child. There are, unfortunately, many cases like this where people change their minds after the baby is born and want to remove one part of the family from their parenting role. The problem that the Scottish Parliament must address is that our society fails to recognise the validity of alternative families, and therefore the parenting rights that members of such families have are inappropriate. There is no basis for thinking that LGBT people are better or worse parents than straight people, and those who claim that are usually motivated by reasons outside the best interests of the child.
Doogie, Scotland

As a father myself, I know that children learn from their parents. Even things to do with their sexuality. Of course the father should have full parental access. How else is the child meant to learn about regular relationships? I'm not religious, nor am I homophobic, but I think that the boy should be brought up by his mum and dad. Anyone else is just lending a hand!
Mark R Arnold, England

I dare say more thought, care and consideration goes into a gay couple's decision to have a child than any of their heterosexual counterparts ever manage

Concerning Alasdair, Scotland - I always thought Christians were intolerant, ignorant folk who can't see the obvious fact that the Bible is full of ludicrous contradictions and was clearly written by ordinary people for the impressionable masses. God has nothing to do with it! I suggest Alasdair actually takes the trouble to read the Bible (as I did, as a Theology student). Then perhaps he'd realise that if there is a God, he'd never put his name to such primitive and vindictive books as the Bible, Koran or Torah!
Steve, UK

Chris USA: explaining to a child their conception would be confusing to them, regardless of their parents' sexuality. How confusing would it be for a child to learn that they were conceived in a drunken one night stand with a stranger? Or that "nature" had meant that one of their parents was infertile and that medical intervention was called for? Surely knowing that you were conceived out of love and the genuine desire to raise a child is all that a child needs to hear. I dare say more thought, care and consideration goes into a gay couple's decision to have a child than any of their heterosexual counterparts ever manage.
Kate, England

I agree with Alasdair. The erosion of Christian values has led to the kind of selfish morally bankrupt society where a child's right to grow up with dad and mum is now subservient to the rights of gays, lesbians and the unmarried. It is as if the children are there to supply the needs of the adults, not the other way around. Like Alasdair, I find the true pattern for child rearing in the Bible, and pity the innocent child who is in the middle of this disturbing case growing up under the care of a homosexual father and a lesbian mother, with the blessing of the law. Can we stoop any lower as a society?
Andrew, England

Gay fathers should have the same rights as everyone else, of course. If they father a child, it is also theirs. As long as two women cannot make a child on their own, they cannot be a family unit in the "creating sense" and simply pretend the "sperm donor" doesn't exist. All men are sperm donors. A child cannot have two mothers. Nature won't allow it. But we could all vote that they can have the right to have two mothers (freely adapted from Monty Python's Life of Brian, with added "what's the point" remark).

Gay or straight, the couple shouldn't be able simply to oust the natural father's rights as a parent

R Kaye
I'm very happy that the father has been granted access to the child he fathered; I've considered this myself. The controversial point is not the granting of a gay man parental rights - millions of parents have their children and then come out afterwards, and raise perfectly normal kids - but I find the idea that the lesbian parents were not, somehow, a "family unit" to be exceptionally disconcerting. Already, gay marriage has become legal in some EC countries. Inevitably, those laws will have eventual impact here, with a possible European Court of Human Rights ruling that would require that it be legalized. What then? When our government supports such blatant disregard for the basic humanity of its constituents or the love those constituents may share, regardless of sexual orientation, how can that government claim to help in preventing that kind of disempowerment from further reinforcing the existing and pervasive anti-gay sentiments in regions that most need public reinforcement of basic civil liberties? Millions of people who think homosexual relationships are filthy, dirty, reprehensible relationships can now proudly sit back and clap their hands in glee at the support provided by the misguided words of what is probably a perfectly good sheriff.
Gregory Block, UK

Surely the man realised that he was not intended to be a father as such, but a sperm donor. However, he is technically the father so he should not be denied access to the child should he want it. The arrangement was presumably that the lesbian couple were to be the child's parents and this is not necessarily challenged by the father's right to access. It's up to them to sort out whether he has regular access or is simply allowed to visit the child from time to time. The right of the child to know his father cannot be ignored, so long as the father is a suitable role model. While I support gay couples in having children, I think there's a more deeply rooted psychological reason why you need a man and a woman to have a child.
Jon, UK

If nature intended for same sex couples to have offspring then we would have been provided with ways of conceiving

I think the sheriff was wrong to rule that a lesbian couple is not a family unit. Religious dogma aside, I thought we had reached at least that stage of enlightenment where we recognise that a gay or lesbian couple is as much of a family as a heterosexual one. Unfortunately what seems to have happened here is that a dispute over access has been overtaken by the issues surrounding the parents' sexualities, when the only real concern was who should have access. The court judged that the father should have access, which is fair and proper, but I could see absolutely no need for the sheriff to decide what did and did not constitute a family.
David, Scotland

As far as I can see, the sexuality of the man involved was irrelevant in this case. The sexuality of the couple who wanted to be recognised as the baby's parents should not be relevant either. The fact is one of them chose to have a child by a man who was clearly not an anonymous sperm donor. Gay or straight, the couple shouldn't be able simply to oust the natural father's rights as a parent.
R Kaye, UK

If same sex couples don't have the equipment between them to produce offspring then what rights should they have? Explain to the child when she/he grows up how they were conceived, what kind of childhood would that be? I have a son of two years and I just cannot imagine how confusing it would be for them. If nature intended for same sex couples to have offspring then we would have been provided with ways of conceiving. As for rights the only rights that should apply are for the child not the parents.
Chris, USA

As I am a Christian I doubt that the media will take any heed to my thoughts. Look to the Bible, if they took heed of God's word without twisting it, they wouldn't have this problem in the first place.
Alasdair, Scotland

See also:

07 Mar 02 | Scotland
Gay father wins landmark ruling
26 Apr 01 | Health
Gays 'have right to parenthood'
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