The reports coauthors, Scott Long, policy director for the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission and consultant Leslie Minot, conclude that there is an agonizing divide between the promise of equality, enshrined in internationally accepted protections, and the reality of discrimination.
The report examines the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in four main areas: custody and access to children, including situations involving the breakup of a heterosexual relationship; adoption and foster parenting; access to reproductive technology such as artificial insemination; and parenting rights of partners.
"The ways that states intervene in families, and the ways that states try to define parenthood," Long said at a recent breakfast held at the Manhattan offices of Center for Reproductive Law and Policy, "are inconsistent and incoherent, and, in many ways in most countries, just a mess."
The report cites the following examples as typical of the type of difficulties gay and lesbian parents face worldwide:
- A lesbian mother in the Czech Republic won custody of her children – but only after a humiliating battery of psychological and other tests.
- In Argentina, Brazil, Finland, the Philippines, and Russia, lesbian mothers who fear their sexual orientation will become known are coerced to agree to unfavorable custody settlements.
- In Ireland, Italy and Serbia, adoption is restricted to married couples.
- And in Israel, a lesbian couple whose son was born in the United States, where they established second-parent adoption, are now fighting for legal recognition that they are both the mothers of the child.
- The European Court of Human Rights ruled in 1997 that the United Kingdom had not discriminated against a transgender man by denying his request to be named as the father on the birth certificate of his partner’s child. If he had not been transgender, he would have been listed on the birth certificate
Rays of light, however, do exist, the authors added. In Portugal, for example, a court denied a gay father custody of his daughter on the grounds that the child should be within a traditional Portuguese family. The father appealed to the European court of Human Rights, and won. In Costa Rica, a plan to restrict single women from using artificial insemination – thereby effectively preventing all lesbians from using reproductive technology to form families– was defeated.
The report, "Conceiving Parenthood: Parenting and the Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender People and Their Children" was researched, written and published by Long’s 10-year-old nonprofit organization, which advocates against human rights abuses based on sexual orientation and gender identity, or whether a person is infected with HIV.
The authors add that no country fully or equally recognizes the relationships of love and care which gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people are capable of forming. This is true, they said, even though they are part of the international treaty known as the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The result, as the report says, is that millions are living under threat that their family relationships will be disregarded and torn apart.
The report recommended that the definition of family and parenthood in all laws and government policies should be more inclusive and that sexual orientation, gender identity and marital status should be integrated into anti-discrimination law.
For more information, contact the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Organization.
Barbara Raab is a writer and network television producer living in New York City.