“In fact,” says Circle’s president John Weltman, “while surrogacy was untouched by recent ballot measures, it is benefiting from growing public acceptance and awareness as a viable and safe method for gay men to become parents. This is particularly true since international and domestic adoptions have become more difficult to accomplish.”
Disappointments in Arizona, Florida, Arkansas, and California have affected gay men and lesbians around the country. Although in some states our ability to form loving, caring relationships is presumed to be subjected to a vote by fellow citizens, a growing number of gay men nationwide are having children and proving to be great parents.
Can recent ballot measures present obstacles to this trend? Not according to John Weltman, president and owner of the country’s oldest gay owned and gay focused surrogacy agency. Based on first hand experience, Weltman is optimistic about both the level of public acceptance of gay families, and the availability and affordability of surrogacy as a safe, legal and rewarding parenting option for gay men. ProudParenting asked John Weltman [pictured below] a few questions about how gay surrogacy is affected by recent political and economic trends, and the possibility of seeing more gay dads at the playground. We included a poll, to let you weigh in.
PP: John – we’ve read about you in the New York Times, Newsweek, and Details magazine. You are everywhere we look, getting your message out, and you recently told the newswire service AFP that Circle has grown significantly in 12 years. You also expect to double in the next two and half years. The number of new gay parents seems to be rising at a remarkable rate when we consider that the economy is getting more unmanageable. Do you expect the gayby boom to plateau at any point soon?
JW: I don’t – in fact, I expect the gay surrogacy boom to continue to grow quite substantially in the next 10 to 20 years. I think what we are experiencing at Circle is the result of several trends resulting in more gay parents, and a larger share of these men who are choosing surrogacy as the method to achieve this goal. I think the world has just begun to accept gay relationships and gay parenting, and the rise in gay men choosing to become parents is in part a reflection of the growing numbers of men coming out and reaching a certain age and level of financial security. As this becomes true in more and more places, I think the desire of gay men to become parents is likely to grow further. However, a recent statistic I saw states that about 15% of gay men were becoming parents, still a much lower percentage than their heterosexual and even lesbian counterparts. This, I fear, reflects the simple fact that it is much harder for men to achieve parenthood. In addition with states like Arkansas cutting off gay adoption and certain international countries stopping adoption altogether, adoption is becoming even harder still. So what we are experiencing is the result of growing public awareness and acceptance of surrogacy as a viable method for gay men to become parents, when the alternatives are becoming decreasingly available. Beyond the obvious advantage of having a biological link with your children, surrogacy today is often faster than adoption, it is extremely reliable and essentially 100% safe legally. It doesn’t involve the risk of a birth mother changing her mind, or the need to persuade the entire electorate that you are fit to be a parent. Our clients express a strong sense of empowerment and satisfaction that surrogacy allows them to “take their fate in their own hands,” especially when they are working with a gay-owned and gay-focused agency like ours.
And while surrogacy remains an expensive process, some new alternatives (like the use of an egg-bank and more affordable health insurance solutions) can reduce the costs significantly. In fact, even as the economic situation has been changing in the last few months, we have experienced a remarkable growth in our practice. There seems to be no hesitation among our clients. This is not surprising to us. We have found that for many the bad economy causes them to focus on their core desires, in this case, the desire to become parents.
PP: Circle Surrogacy has representatives in Boston, New York, Texas, Indiana and Arizona. What states are your most active? Is there a connection between the state’s politics [red, blue, conservative, liberal] and the number of Circle’s clients?
JW: As Boston is where our principal office is, the large majority of our domestic clients are from the northeast, mostly MA and NY. However, we have clients from all over the country and the world.
I don’t think the state’s politics have anything to do with the desire of its gay residents to parent, but naturally the larger gay centers tend to be in the “blue” states. Other than Florida, Georgia and Texas, the rest of the south is definitely under-represented in our client base.
PP: Have you noticed an impact from the recent marriage decisions in Massachusetts and Connecticut? Do you believe surrogacy will become even more popular where gay marriage is available?
JW: Despite the recent setback in California, we believe that decisions in Massachusetts and Connecticut to allow gay marriage, and decisions in New York that recognize marriages from those states, along with national legislation in Canada, Spain the Netherlands and Belgium that authorize gay marriage portend well for the acceptability of gay couples. And even though states like Arkansas now prohibit gay adoption, this does not mean that gays can’t do surrogacy. Rather, a unanimous 10th Circuit Decision (covering Oklahoma, Utah, Nebraska, etc.), from last year makes clear that all states must give full faith and credit to decisions from other states authorizing second parent adoptions, even if the state itself does not permit two men or two women on a birth certificate. This bodes very well for gay parenting nationwide. In fact, for some reason, gay parenting is still years ahead of gay marriage in acceptability nationwide.
Despite the recent setbacks for gay marriage in California and elsewhere, gay parenting rights have been growing over the last 15 years, with dozens of states presently authorizing second parent adoptions when one of the parents is biologically related to the children, as in surrogacy.
Incidentally, in the days after the election we got several new inquiries from people in Arkansas and Florida, perhaps out of defiance and a resolve to take matters into their own hands. Many of our gay clients, domestic and international, are now eager to also get married when they come in to our office or visit our most frequently used clinics in Massachusetts and Connecticut. This is especially attractive for clients from New York and Israel, both examples of places where gay marriages are recognized if conducted elsewhere. However it has a deep emotional significance for many others as well. I know from first had experience that an official marriage status can be a great source of comfort and pride for our kids, once they reach a certain age.
PP: The New York Times recently published a story about single dads by choice, and we know Circle has worked with single men as clients throughout its 13 years of existence. The Time’s piece reported an increase in the number of gay single fathers working with surrogates. Because so many gay men are single, do you believe the ratio of single gay dads will ever equal the number of gay male couples who choose surrogacy?
JW: While I do not think that the ratio will ever be the same, since obviously it is harder to raise a child on your own, we have seen a growth in the number of applications from single guys. I think that more single gay men are feeling confident and financially secure enough to start the process alone. However we have always had about 20% of our practice devoted to single dads.
PP: The Details magazine article said that many single men pair off soon after they become parents. We think this notion is adorable, and wonder if you could share any anecdotes involving this ‘pairing off’.
JW: Indeed the vast majority of our single dads have become partnered either before their children were born or shortly thereafter. We think it is their level of comfort with themselves, and their confidence in their own decision-making that makes them very attractive to others. In fact, in one instance we had two single surrogacy gay dads who met after they each had their own children first, and now they are one large happy family.
PP: Lastly, Circle Surrogacy just celebrated its 13th anniversary – and the birth of its 250th baby – with a reunion party in September. We found out that your family was planning to attend, but we haven’t heard how the party went. Can you describe your reaction to the party and the clients who attended?
JW: My whole family attended and the party was terrific. We had surrogates, donors, couples, singles, gay and straight from the Boston area, the NY tri state area and as far away as Italy in attendance. A similar party we had in New York three years (and 100 babies) ago was mostly attended by NY gay dads and their children. It was such a warm reunion, so well attended, filled with fun for kids (with a magician, animals and the Aquarium) and adults – with great food and a champagne toast and a chance to get to know other couples in similar situations. While some of the children who attended are 7-13 years old, most were infants and toddlers, reflecting the “surrogacy baby boom” of the last few years. It was also nice to see how the children of clients and surrogates mingled and played together. These parties are a great opportunity to be reminded of what we believe surrogacy is all about: families helping create other families.