6.4.1 Legal Support
The official recognition of homosexual parenthood through legal dispositions revealed diversified modes of procreation: these reflect, first, situations created by the temporal unfolding of the law, and then the opening of an increasingly complete range of choices, allowing for many more parental configurations. Simplifying somewhat, it began before the law was passed, in the context of heterosexual relationships or artisanal insemination for lesbians; and continued after 1996 with new legal mechanisms permitting legal authority over the partner’s child, the adoption of the partner’s child in 2000, and finally in 2016, ART and full adoption.
Regardless of how homosexuals become parents, their parenthood is always the result of a plan, which may be elaborate, or more minimal. Anton emphasized that things are not ‘so simple’, and that the law offers only support.
‘If you want to have a child together and particularly, I mean, gay and lesbian couples have to go the extra mile. I mean, straight couples, it’s boy meets girl on a Friday night and nine months later they are parents whether they want to be or not. I mean, and gay and lesbian couples, that’s an effort. You have to find a route to basically have child through either surrogacy or through adoption or, I don’t know, any programs that are available out there. You have to go through a long process. It’s not organic. I’m almost saying it’s not natural, but it’s not organic in a sense of the ability to reproduce.” IS13 Anton
There is a fairly pronounced difference between generations. The perspectives on parenthood of interviewees from the older age group are clearly connected to the legal situation in the country when they entered their twenties. This split could be observed among those with children from a heterosexual relationship as well as those who had not had children, either because they did not foresee being in a heterosexual relationship (ephemeral or long-term), or because the absence of a law meant familial insecurity to them, in terms of the child’s rights or the adult’s personal rights with respect to the child.
Many pointed out that in case of conflict during separation or simply problems in daily life, the biological relationship is favoured over the social. This puts the legally unrecognized parent in a position of inferiority, a vulnerability that weighs particularly heavily in case of separation. Þórdís, 51, described the feelings of insecurity around the desires for children that she did not realize in a time when the law was hostile to homosexual parenthood.
‘…I also thought about having a child with one of our gay friends. But it was just like, we never went through with it because everything was so insecure… it also shows that these rights, when we obtain them, like here in Iceland, first in ‘96 and then in 2005, or whenever it was [in fact 2006], it has a different meaning for different generations in this society. For those of us who are of a different generation than those who are younger, our quality of life has been impaired when it comes to issues like children. There is a certain regret there. You could have had children but you weren’t given the opportunity and you see that some of the women who belong to the older generation are marked by this lack of rights as well.’ IS04 Þórdís
Kolbrún also emphasized the importance of the law and its ability to provide security with regard to the child, who legally has two parents – again, in the context of a normative vision of parenthood.
‘…I think the idea of two parents of the same sex is directly connected to the laws. Because before that time, say that I would have been in a relationship with a woman who had had a child, the old-fashioned way still without a dad. And when we break up, I would have no insurance that… And therefore I think that women were having children on their own and being like “This is my child and you are welcome in our lives as long as we stay a couple…” …Yes I think those laws really mattered. I think the person that benefited the most was the child. The child now has two parents. Not one mom and occasional stepmoms… I find it comforting that the legislation is there so everything is clear from day one. Instead of saying “Oh, we will fix this somehow afterwards, I will adopt the child.” But what if you break up a month later? It is extremely important to know exactly where you stand. From the very start. I think most people would want that. This is such a huge event. It is like buying a property and there exists no laws regarding real estate business.’ IS27 Kolbrún
Elín sees these laws mainly as a simplification. Because the laws exist, her plans for parenthood do not extend beyond the conception of the child. Just as marriage offers legal security to the spouses, the law guarantees it for the parents.
‘It of course wouldn’t be possible if this law wasn’t in place so you know I would think it was really bad if um we couldn’t both be mothers from the start or you know had to adopt you know the other mother would have to adopt or something like that so of course the simpler the system the more someone can be bothered doing this.’ IS21 Elín
Access to ART
The legalization of homosexual parenting has disrupted social norms historically anchored in the law. This change made it possible to clearly distinguish filiation and parenthood (Fine 2013). While lesbian motherhood predates the law, the legalization of access to medically assisted procreation for female same-sex couples – first in closely linked Scandinavian countries (Denmark, Sweden) and then in Iceland – had a major impact on the lives of lesbians. With it they could plan to be parents without needing to provide for the presence of a man/father. For some, this had the effect of loosening ties to the homosexual community, and even of bringing them closer to heterosexual couples having technical difficulties procreating, as early as the planning phase. Information on infertility (technical or physical) is transmitted through websites and Facebook groups (and, previously, forums), which are not linked to the participants’ sexuality.
Medical acts for this purpose are legal only if they are performed in a clinic accredited by the Ministry of Health. At the time of the survey there was only one such clinic, then operating under the name Art Medica. It has since been bought by a Swedish company and now operates under the name Livio.
The service offers users the possibility of a known or an unknown donor. Under Icelandic law, children have the right to learn the name of a known donor on reaching the age of majority. Conversations around these questions are the first to arise in lesbians’ construction of their plans for parenthood.
In this context, one complex topic is the choice of a donor. Contrary to Sweden, which does not allow unknown donors, on grounds of children’s right to know their origins, Iceland has offered this option since 2006. In Sweden, the requirement that the donor’s identity be known allows the authorities to verify the child’s genetic origin. Double gametes donation, of sperm and egg (to allow a woman’s female partner to bear her embryo) has only been permitted since 2019 in Sweden (Leibetseder 2018).
Icelandic women make full use of Cryos, the Danish sperm bank, the main European provider in this sector (https://dk.cryosinternational.com/).
Little by little, most lesbian couples have come to choose the services of Art Medica/Livio as the simplest way to have children. It allows them to plan to become parents together, situating themselves together in the realm of the biological couple, choosing who will bear what child and whether the sperm donor will be known or anonymous.
6.4.2 Not One, But Many Lesbian-Parented Families
Before access to ART was legally extended to lesbian couples, it reproduced the heterosexual system of filiation through a legal fiction. In the case of a heterosexual couple using ART, sperm can be drawn from the male in the couple, or, in case of infertility, from a donor. In the latter case, while a third person was in fact involved in the birth, as the sperm donor was typically anonymous, it was as though he did not exist. Couples could even hide the fact that they had used ART, with filiation attributed to the two members of the couple. In contrast, the origin of the child of a lesbian couple is always biologically questioned. In lesbian medically assisted procreation, everyone knows that a sperm donor is involved. Questions around the origin of this sperm are thus often core concerns for lesbian couples. This may also happen for heterosexual couples, with the biological dimension re-emerging after having been legally suppressed: if the possibility of anonymity for donors were to be removed for lesbian couples in the name of children’s right to know their origins, this would have to be done for heterosexual couples as well. Children of lesbian couples challenge the legal presumption of ‘paternity’. In the context of ART, if the process takes place within the Icelandic healthcare system, the law stipulates that the member of the couple who is not bearing the child must give consent (Art. 3a, Lög um tæknifrjóvgun og notkun kynfrumna og fósturvísa manna til stofnfrumurannsókna, nr. 55/1996), regardless of gender. This person is then automatically considered the child’s parent. Lesbian access to ART thus challenges the absolute naturalism of heterosexual ART, while establishing or affirming a legal version of lesbian parenthood. As emphasized by Daniel Borrillo, ‘procreation could now be conceived as a freedom that merits specific legal protection as a manifestation of private life.’ (Borrillo 2018).
22.214.171.124 A Challenge for Lesbians: A New Model
The legalization of homosexual filiation brought a new visibility to family configurations that would come to be models. Affirming the equality of homosexuality with heterosexuality, in daily life and in the family context, is fundamental for future generations of homosexuals, notably in facilitating the process of coming out. Equality before the law does not necessarily imply sameness. In the years following the legalization of parenthood, the tension between normalization and assimilation came to the fore. Some saw this period of transition as an occasion to open up conceptions of the family beyond the heterosexual nuclear model, although these too have shown a strong tendency toward diversification, notably with family recomposition after separations.
Reinventing the family also means changing, not only the meaning of the parental couple, but also its content. The legalization of ART offered female same-sex couples the means to reflect on the meaning of their parenthood, and to work toward new norms. The latter have been diversifying, although the work of construction happens within the intimate sphere. Lesbian plans for parenthood arise through a series of choices negotiated between partners. These include choosing who will bear the child, who will provide the egg, who will be the sperm donor (sperm bank, friend, stranger, etc.), and the method of insemination. These choices relate both to the biological and the societal. And yet the choice of a known or anonymous donor does not necessarily remain confined to the private sphere. Once again, it raises questions about the couple’s personal relationship to the biological, but can also provoke the societal gaze to which, de facto, lesbian parental couples are exposed.
From a legal perspective, having an unknown donor totally prevents children from knowing who provided the sperm needed for their birth. The irreversibility of this choice is at the heart of a debate that sometimes extends far beyond the couple. Having a known donor leaves children free to choose, whereas an unknown donor affirms both legal filiation and the female couple’s exclusive status as the child’s parents. And yet – whether or not it is expressed – the child’s origin is a question to which the couple must constantly respond, as in the case of single mothers or fathers.
Lesbian motherhood offers the possibility of doing without the figure of the father in planning family life. But this remains a precursor at best, as society expects a biological father to exist, if not to be present. Respondents in our sample who made the choice not to involve a male parent in any way explained that others often found this choice more troubling than they did.
Family and friends are not absent from this debate. It is also often discussed in the LGBT circles, both among lesbians and among gay men, particularly as this question raises that of gay fatherhood, which is legally possible but limited in practice. The respondents systematically spoke of the contribution of the sperm donor, known or unknown, whether or not it was directly relevant to them.
In the sample analysed here, men also took part in the discussion around the existence of a father. Among those who expressed a desire for children during the interviews in 2015, the topic of ways of becoming a father brought out the desire to be a coparent (to share parenting with a person or a couple outside your relationship and/or household).
126.96.36.199 The Lesbian Nuclear Model
A new challenge for lesbian women is to experience their motherhood without letting the judgments of others affect their choices, and to take full advantage of what the law offers them. With the choice of an unknown donor, the two members of the couple are the sole and exclusive parents of the children.
Sigrún, for example, while not denying the involvement of a ‘biological father’ in the conception of her two children, explained that the children had no ‘dad’.
‘Yes, we talked about it and we both wanted to have him unknown. We have had to debate that because people of course don’t agree. People have different views on the issue. But we chose to have him unknown because these are just our children and some sperm donor in Denmark, or wherever he is, would never be our children’s father… These are our boys and we will always be their moms and there is no dad in the picture. Even though there is this biological father then it is just some information on paper you can’t do anything more with.’ IS10 Sigrún
The respondents offered several reasons for their choice of an unknown donor. For Lilja, it was a matter of centering the birth of her child within the couple. She totally rejected the presence of a father, biological or social. She did not bear the child, but she conceived parenthood as a duality, because “as the “other mother”, I would just find it difficult” while rejecting the figure of a biological father, she also did not want a “social” father drawn from a circle of friends.
‘I just want to have a child with my partner and maybe it is also difficult to know immediately when you have the baby that you will have to share it every other week with a person who doesn’t belong to the relationship. Maybe this is a kind of selfishness, I don’t know. But I just can’t see it as a realistic option.’ IS05 Lilja
In discussing the choice of a donor, known or unknown, Lilja nonetheless found it difficult not to think of the figure of the progenitor. She saw this as a point of vulnerability for her as a lesbian – one that she thought she had already left behind.
‘There is an emotion which arises when you are choosing donor sperm. This may be the first time in my life that I feel my sexual orientation inhibits me in doing something. You know, wanting to do something on your own and just not being able to. Needing to get some man to… and that is just a weak spot. And I don’t know why. I just found it really difficult and you know, should you try and match him with your appearance or not and everything like that.’ IS05 Lilja.
Because she is not the biological mother, she also raised the issue of her relationship to the child’s physical appearance, imagining herself in a day-to-day context where heteronormative society looks for the parent’s features in the child.
Erla also mentioned this question of the gaze of others. Her story shows that while the negotiation takes place within the couple, they must also face their family and friends.
‘You know that 50% of the child’s genetic material wasn’t mine but belonged to someone we didn’t know at all. People wanted to ask. Who is he? Where does he come from? Do you know something about him? You know, do you know how the child you are having will look? You know, all these things that were just in the air but people were afraid to ask about them.’ IS12 Erla
Kolbrún, who at the time of the survey was undergoing ART, also chose an unknown donor, after deciding against coparenting. She explained that she wanted to parent exclusively with her partner. She thought that this might be considered selfish, and that the presence of a third parent could be beneficial for the child, but she expressed fears about such multiple relationships.
‘I used to think that it would be normal and fine to get some gay friend to be the donor. That was then, and after I paid more thought to it, then I came to the conclusion that it is not fair towards the other parent. You are a non-biological parent, how can you be sure that you are anything to the child unless you are there for at least five years? And you cannot guarantee that your partner will still like you after three years and then you are just no good. The child cannot remember you and what are you going to do?
…There is no solution to this, this is just life. But yes. After a lot of consideration I find it extremely important that this is an option and this is an option that I would choose.
S: Unknown donor?
K: Yes, like anonymous. But yes, this is a selfish point of view, because maybe it would be best for the child to have three parents. But since you are investing all this time and energy and everything, you want to have some minor chances of playing some role in the child’s life.’ IS27 Kolbrún
This sensation of selfishness relates to several possible scenarios. The first is ART’s facilitation of parenthood without the involvement of a man. Haukur clearly expressed this as he reflected on his limited opportunities to become a father. This subject is clearly at the heart of debates around male parenthood in homosexual circles.
‘I also find it, you get a little annoyed with lesbian couples. We have had heated discussions about this, among other things. You feel like they should stand by you. And I experience this as a little selfish, knowing…. I have a close relative, a lesbian and she and her wife went through artificial insemination in Denmark and they have, as so many other lesbian couples that I know, not wanted any known donors. That the kid can never find out anything about its father. We have had this hot discussion once in a gay pride party where there were mostly women there who had kids and the discussion was: There is no father. But for sure there is a father!’ IS17 Haukur
188.8.131.52 The Persistence of the Biological Tie
Like Lilja and Sigrún, Auður chose ART in order to avoid involving a third adult in her family sphere. Contrary to them, however, she and her partner chose a known donor. They thus did not choose to definitively eliminate the reference to the biological in their family by blocking the child’s access to its origins, although they did not wish to involve a father. They felt that their child should have access to the donor’s identity if the child so desired.
‘We both wanted to experience being pregnant and we just somehow wanted to have the child without there being a third party involved. Of course we have the donor but just that it isn’t someone we know. But we decided to use, you must know [unclear], to use a known donor because even though we don’t have to know who it is then we didn’t want to take the possibility away from him [the child] if he would want to know one day. But we just figured that we wanted to have a stranger because if I don’t know who it is and I look at the child, then I only see my girlfriend in him. I don’t see anyone else. Like “Ah, he has Peter’s nose” or something. I would feel like I was the third wheel.’ IS09 Auður
This choice was reinforced by the couple’s desire to have a second child from the same donor, with Auður as the biological mother. By choosing to use the same donor for both children, Auður was also creating a common “biological father” for the two, to make them biological half-siblings.
‘I would like to become pregnant later on. We both wanted to experience being pregnant so even when we went to Art medica then we were just “Do you want to begin? Should I begin?” We were almost deciding it in the office. Just, okay, she began, just because she is one year older than I. That was the only deciding factor. And we will try and use the same donor when I have a child. So we are very 50/50 in everything we do.’ IS09 Auður
Another situation where lesbian couples have maintained an attachment to biological filiation is the use of IVF with double donation. In Iceland, the law allows concomitant sperm and egg donation. This offers lesbians the possibility of one of the mothers bearing the other’s embryo, and thus of shared “biological” involvement in filiation. This can be understood as a desire to recreate two realities drawn from heterosexuality, expressed in this case through the mother – understood as necessarily biological – and the father, whose paternity is either presumed (in the case of a husband) or recognized (for other couples). In the case of egg donation within the couple, both women consider themselves de facto biological mothers, conferring a ‘natural’ status that is otherwise seen as absent from lesbian parenthood. This has no legal effect under Icelandic law, which establishes filiation simply through the recognition of parenthood within legally recognized couples, but it is a choice that some couples make in order to naturalize their family. Élin made this choice.
‘We have gone through IVF so we take an egg from [her partner] and fertilise it so she is of course the biological mother but I am of course like I always say jokingly you know that I am the surrogate mother except of course just like I get to then keep the baby but people of course have all kinds of like you know doesn’t she think it’s sad not carrying the child or say to me don’t you think it’s sad that the baby won’t look like you and you and you know we don’t care at all about that you know but um I think it’s amazing to be able to do it the way we are doing it.’ IS21 Élin
Élin’s discourse features a mixture of the justification of equality with a denial of the importance of the views of others. This debate around maternity brings out the social primacy of the biological in the form of the child’s resemblance to the parents. It highlights what the law allows and what society sees.
As we saw above, Lilja did not choose this way of family-making, but she finds it difficult because everything is referred back to the biological.
‘I think it’s just this fear of not connection [with the child]. Fear which is maybe completely irrational and disappears immediately when you have a child in your arms… and also the fear of hearing “Oh, she is just like her mother.” That the child looks biologically like one of the mothers… it is insanity to consider yourself parent if it is not your biological child.’ IS05 Lilja
The interviews performed thus show that the lesbian respondents fully invested in ART in all of their richness (Insemination and IVF), drawing on the complete range of possibilities they offer. A single desire, to become the parents of a child, took form as different realities.
6.4.3 Challenges to the Legal Framework
184.108.40.206 The Three-Adult Family
Coparenting is increasingly common, despite the fact that it still conflicts with the law, which recognizes only two parents for a given child. This configuration means a backward step for the children in social terms – a discrepancy in recognition between their legal parents and their social parents. This is the choice that was most often mentioned by male respondents speaking about the desire for children, notably because of the difficulty of adoption. It is also a model that could be adopted when ART was not available, and thus has a relatively long history. It is, if not accepted, at least known.
Sóley (IS18), who at the time of the survey was in an informal couple with a woman, conceived a child with a male friend, Bjarki (IS07). The two close friends developed the plan when Sóley was single; she met her partner only after the insemination had taken place. After several failed attempts at ART with Art Medica, she ultimately became pregnant through personal insemination (which took place outside the medical system, through the use of a syringe and her friend’s sperm collected in artisanal fashion), and gave birth to a son.
Personal insemination allowed her male friend to recognize the child without the need for adoption, as in the case of a non-cohabiting heterosexual couple jointly declaring the birth on the national register. This is exactly what they wanted. Indeed, the desire for a child originated with the father, Bjarki, who wanted to coparent, participating in raising the child. Sóley’s partner, however, has no legal rights with respect to the child. When the father has recognized the child, the mother’s partner can only have rights if the father gives them up. Furthermore, the two women are not bound together by law, not even through a registered cohabitation. The three are raising the child together under these unsatisfactory conditions.
The example of Sóley and Bjarki is atypical of homosexual families which are not protected by the law, in that the two friends had made their plans to become parents in a situation of mutual trust, and the third person was added during the process. They did not sign any contract, or even establish any documentation to compensate for the absence of legal protections for their family.
‘We have received a lot of criticism, or not criticism, but like questions and…, and doubts from people, we, from both sides. “Hey, hey people don’t you have a contract? Didn’t you sign anything?”, you know, and stuff like that.’ IS18 Sóley
Sóley met her partner in the final months of the process, who then became involved, accompanying Sóley through the different steps, notably medical; but only two people were involved in making the original plan. Sóley’s partner spent much of the first months after the child’s birth abroad; this period was thus mainly a shared experience for Sóley and Bjarki as a pair; the latter took paternity leave. This almost conventional model of coparenting, one woman and one man, is less subversive socially than it is legally, and led others to express contempt for their situation. Sóley also perceived that this similarity with the heterosexual model had an effect on her daily life. She is often perceived as the mother of Bjarki’s child, and the two as a heterosexual couple.
In another model of coparenting, Sveinn has two children with a female heterosexual friend. They also conceived the children using a syringe, at home, when they had reached their thirties; both were driven by a very strong desire for children. Both of their children were conceived in this way, even though the younger child was born after the law expanding access to ART had been passed:
‘We didn’t think about it. We were surprised that it had gone through. I think we didn’t even check. Also because if we had taken advantage of the laws it would have cost us half a million. But instead we bought a syringe for 330 crowns.’ IS08 Sveinn
The mother of Sveinn’s children does not have a partner, but he is in a confirmed partnership with a man. He is the biological parent of both children, as the desire for children was more his than his partner’s. His conjugal status did not affect or influence his choice to be a parent: ‘If I hadn’t been in a relationship then I would have had kids at a similar time. I would just be a single father.’ In practice, his husband has no rights with respect to the children. This choice does not currently pose any problem for them in daily life, but he thought it was difficult for his partner’s parents.
‘Because somewhere is this need to procreate and it is creating a legal uncertainties for a lot of gay couples and it is destroying relationships around us. And I have felt that it is an issue in my home. It can be difficult to deal with, for instance for the grandmothers and grandfathers who are not related by blood. It took them a longer time to connect because people are afraid of starting to love something and then it is taken away from them.’ IS08 Sveinn
He offered a normative account of his choices around parenthood, explaining that he thinks it is good for children to have a mother and a father. In framing his own parenthood, he sees the feminine, maternal figure as very important for children. He nonetheless presented the situation by saying: ‘I’m married to a man, … and we have two children with a woman.’
Contrary to Sóley and Bjarki, who made no plans concerning the organization of daily life, Sveinn and the mother of the children wrote down the material aspects of their planned parental situation together.
‘We were preoccupied with writing everything down, to have everything down on paper, even before the child was conceived, so we would have a written agreement about, you know, right of access, finances and everything. We would have shared custody and just everything 50/50 except the children would have their domicile at her house.’ IS08 Sveinn
His only worry in relationship to the law concerns his husband’s rights with respect to the children. After the initial worries, they were reassured by the initial experiences with the child in public, where they found him to be identified as a child like any other, with an extended family.
‘We both thought, since we both know how it is to grow up being different, are we bringing a child into a world where it won’t be left alone because it has gay parents? But we stopped thinking about it very quickly. It just came and went in an afternoon. Especially when the kids were in kindergarten. Everyone has two homes and three fathers. It has never been an issue. We had role models. Our friends went down this path with a lesbian couple 16 years ago or something. We spoke to them a little bit.’ IS08 Sveinn
His words recall that coparenting existed before the changes in family law, but also highlight the importance of models and their visibility.
Novelty Within Tradition in Four-Adult Parenting
Hrafnkell (IS23) was married and planning to have a child with his husband. Their preference was for coparenting with a female couple. This choice was motivated by a conception which he explicitly recognized as relatively traditional, with both masculine and feminine figures as parents of the child: ‘I think all children benefit from having maybe also a little like, some male role models, and female of course.’ On the other hand, he saw having four parents as a significant protection for the child. He described himself as being in a stable relationship; he had been with his husband for 16 years, and, ideally, he hoped to find another similar couple. Two men and two women: this configuration does not challenge the reality of today’s recomposed families, whether heterosexual or homosexual, where couples form, dissolve, and reform around each adult’s respective children.
220.127.116.11 Transgender Parenthood
There have as yet been few studies on transgender parenting (Fortier 2015; Marchand 2017; Stotzer et al. 2014), and those few have often approached it from a psychological, clinical, or even legal angle. It raises questions of its own particular order, just as broad as those around homosexual parenting. The present chapter will not survey these questions, as only one of the respondents was in this situation. However, it is worth briefly considering a few points that recall certain problematics around homosexual parenthood discussed above.
The legal framework around transgender identity is not settled, and was still less so at the time of the survey (in particular concerning the control of the state – which defined transsexualism as a psychiatric illness – over different steps in the transition). Like the children of homosexuals born of heterosexual relationships when homosexuality was stigmatized, children born to transsexual parents, or who become transsexual themselves, continue to face the judgments of others in daily life. For some, the transition of the male or female biological parent to the other sex calls into question the terms “mother” and “father”. Having a woman as a father or a man as a mother is currently a new situation – one that is poorly understood. This does not facilitate the processes of coming out and transition.
Águst had children within heterosexual relationships, before coming out and beginning a gender transition. The very existence of children in the household – from different fathers who were largely or entirely absent – led Águst to delay the transition, out of the fear that social services would take them away.
Águst is legally registered under his birth gender and the official documents of his children, which leads to difficult situations in daily life.
‘…this is something that I want to take out. Not all kids have a mother and not all kids have a father and some kids have two mothers and… So I think this should be changed to parent, or legal guardian. I have even spoken about this at the county magistrate’s office. She totally agreed with me. I don’t know what it takes to change this.’ IS29 Águst
Águst sees this situation, which is a matter of ongoing debate, as a problematic one.
Because of Iceland’s adaptability to individual cases, and the fact that only one informer was interviewed, no generalization can be drawn from Águst’s experience. However, given the restricted number of structures – indeed, perhaps only a single one – with some relation to the services that interact in cases of transsexualism, Águst’s situation likely reflects the state in which society has reacted to transsexual identity. While the law establishes filiation, it does not construct parenthood. In France, for example, a married transgender woman who kept her male reproductive organs came to be referred to as the ‘biological parent’ on the birth certificate of her child (Dervieux 2018). This was a compromise allowing the child to be considered to have been born to two mothers. This refusal to consider that two mothers can give birth to a child does not arise in Iceland, where the recognition of maternity applies to both members of married lesbian couples in the ART process for same-sex female couples within the legal healthcare system but it seems not to have been considered in the case of two fathers.
6.4.4 Male Parenthood in Question
The interviews with male respondents who had not had children in a heterosexual relationship raised other questions. The opening of ART to female same-sex couples offered lesbian women a point of entry into, and even a default option for, desired parenthood. Gay men, however, continue to find themselves in often complex, difficult, and sometimes ethically challenging situations (the same, moreover, as those facing women with difficulty procreating) with regard to access to the child.
‘How can we have children? Here is a clear difference between gay and lesbian couples. They can have as many as they want without any hindering or anything. I think that the current discussion is like “Yes you have all rights, you can have children if you want.” Yes, it is one thing to be allowed and another to be able to. There has been the right to adopt for years, but not a single gay couple has managed. So Iceland does not have to risk those [international] adoption contracts it has. I think this is a process we have to think about. Even if we do not want to have children right now, we have to take this discussion; this is a five-year process or something.’ IS17 Haukur
The men who were interviewed often spoke of coparenting – for example with a single woman, or a lesbian couple. However, since lesbians gained legal access to ART, this has proven quite complicated. Haukur complained of a lack of organization to promote male parenthood.
‘I think this is missing, a club or something. Should I post an ad to Fréttablaðið [Icelandic newspaper]: “A gay couple wishes to donate sperm to a nice woman on the condition that the child will know its father”? Where do I post this? Where do you bring this up in a conversation?’ IS17 Haukur
18.104.22.168 Elective Filiation: Adoption
‘If I have kids, then it is adoption.’ IS16 Andri
Both women and men spoke about adoption as a means of becoming a parent, but the difficulty of adopting pushes women to choose other solutions first. References to adoption came mainly from men.
Adoption confronts the Icelandic state with an issue that is not entirely under its control. There are few children to adopt in Iceland, as in most countries with a welfare state. Icelanders thus resort to international adoption, which itself is in decline (Mignot 2015), and which as a result is increasingly selective about the countries and individuals who are granted access. Adopting countries depend on the stance taken by the children’s country of origin on homosexuality and same-sex couples.
In Iceland, both adoption overall and international adoption in particular have been in decline for the last decade (Fig. 6.2).
In Iceland there is only one organization with the accreditation to organize the legal process of adoption, Íslensk ættleiðing (Icelandic Adoption). Iceland has few agreements with countries where there are children for international adoption, and the conditions of some do not allow adoption by homosexuals, regardless of whether they have a partnerFootnote 2. In 2015 it was allowed for children from only one country, Colombia, for children who are older or who have particular characteristics. This situation does not encourage those in Iceland to construct their plans for parenthood based on this highly theoretical possibility. ‘Like the situation is today, you don’t really look into adoption. This is just a closed door.’ IS01 Kjartan. This raises the possibility of adoption as a single parent, which may be better accepted than adoption by a homosexual couple.
‘We can, according to Icelandic laws, adopt as a couple. And there are examples of such, although it is just one or two. The thing is, no one has adopted as an individual, even though that is legal. And that is… I saw a post the other day, in the adoption group that no one has ever tried. So that is why we are going to a meeting with the adoption agency to find out which option would be better… …if we are going to adopt as a couple. As things are today, it has to be within Iceland…’ IS28 Hjörtur
Hlynur too spoke of the difficulty, or even impossibility, of adoption for male same-sex couples, both within Iceland and internationally.
‘…I don’t know of any homosexual couple in Iceland adopting, because it’s so hard for them, because the countries don’t want to allow us to adopt, and it is so hard getting an Icelandic child, it is not really possible, to get an Icelandic child.’ IS30 Hlynur
While the law permitting adoption for same-sex couples was passed in 2006, it was not until 2013 that the first male homosexual couple adopted a child (Valgerðardóttir 2013). The child was a girl born to an Icelandic mother living abroad and an unknown father, putting this case in a separate category, which is difficult to generalize.
22.214.171.124 Men Demand That Surrogacy Be Both Legal and Ethical
Despite the obstacles facing them in becoming parents, none of the men interviewed seemed willing to resort to surrogacy in the existing legal situation. Their position here concerned not only the law, but above all ethics. Most of the respondents saw the recent laws as a form of support for parenthood, but not a prerequisite for the decision to become a parent, whereas with respect to surrogacy, opinions diverged. For the respondents, a law was needed to ensure that the practice would not be abusive for the surrogate mother.
Egill ruled out this possibility completely: ‘I don’t think it is that important to pass my genes along in order to put another person through carrying a child and then have it taken away from her. You know, I just think that would be too selfish.’ IS11 Egill. Sveinn was not as categorical, but remained cautious: ‘I think that surrogacy should be all right where it is ethically OK. Where you are not abusing people.’ IS08 Sveinn.
Stefan spoke very frankly of surrogacy in India, which he associated to poverty and the exploitation of women, a topic that is discussed internationally (Rozée Gomez and Unisa 2014). ‘I couldn’t take part in systemic injustices tied to surrogacy. I can argue about it or participate in discussions about it but to go and find an Indian woman and destroy her life or something. No, that wouldn’t happen.’ IS14 Stefan.
Similarly, Hrafnkell (IS23), who is seeking a way to have a child, thought that more work should be done to create a law regulating altruistic surrogacy, but who said he ‘wouldn’t want to take that route’ because he did not wish to take advantage of a woman in a situation he did not properly understand, referring to surrogacy in India.
Respondents thus emphasized ethical questions, despite the fact that this form of parenthood is legal, and thus regulated, including for non-citizens, in a number of nearby countries – either on an altruistic basis (in Great Britain for example) or a commercial one (United States of America) – and that it is very common among American and European gays (Berkowitz 2013). In Iceland the debate is highly charged: it confronts, on the one hand, a situation where men with a strong desire to be parents are not able to do so with, on the other, a highly feminist society oriented toward social progress but also toward taking great care with the use of the female body. ‘There have to be really strict laws and supervision and… so um, it’s at least something you can’t rush into.’ IS24 Vigdís.
At the time of the survey, the Parliament had plans to discuss a framework for altruistic surrogacy, but this parliamentary process was then indefinitely adjourned.