Nothing 'Normal' About Gay Families in Utah

A Salt Lake City NBC affiliate's refusal to air The New Normal -- a sitcom about a gay couple in Los Angeles that gets pregnant by a surrogate --  highlights the drastic differences between Utah and California with regard to non-traditional families.

thenewnormalmain3.jpgNBC

The New Normal, a sitcom centering on a gay male couple pregnant via a surrogate, will not be shown in Salt Lake City by KSL, an NBC affiliate. Also not seen in Utah: same-sex couples pursuing a surrogacy in real life.

Utah's strict surrogacy laws only permit married couples to hire a surrogate. As gay marriage is outlawed in the state, these laws effectively prohibit the type of family represented in the TV show.

Regardless of who the parents are, both traditional and gestational surrogacy are far from "normal" anywhere. Most of what we hear about surrogacy, and assisted reproductive technologies in general, errs toward the sensational (a headline this past weekend: " Women gives birth to her own grandson"). When it comes to the idea of a woman basically renting her body to carry someone else's child, both social attitudes and legal protections can lag behind the technological advances that make such a thing possible (in a traditional surrogacy, the women uses her own egg, but in a gestational surrogacy, the woman is not biologically related to the child).

Utah may be more representative of the rest of the country than Los Angeles, where Normal's couple resides. Statistics on surrogacy rates in the U.S. are sparse, but they indicate that compared to most states, California is unusually progressive on issues pertaining to "non-traditional families."

California has led the rest of the nation in protecting parents who have children through surrogacy. Since a baby conceived through a surrogate can have multiple competing parents -- the sperm donor, the egg donor, the intended parents, and the surrogate herself -- a landmark 1993 California Supreme Court case, Johnson v. Calvert, determined that intent was the most important factor in determining legal parentage. This way, the couple who initiates a gestational surrogacy contract with the intent of having a child are considered the child's natural parents (this does not apply if the birth mother uses her own egg). In 2005, the court also determined that two lesbian women can be the legal parents of a child produced through surrogacy, paving the way for other LGBT families to do the same.

The most recent reliable statistics, from the Center for Disease Control and the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART), show that in four years, the number of infants born to gestational surrogates almost doubled, to 1400 births in 2008.

In 2007, this method only accounted for 1.57 percent of births in California -- but this accounted for almost a quarter of national surrogate births.

In Utah of that same year, there were none. Even though the state passed a law in 2005 that gives legal rights to married couples seeking surrogacy (and ceases to criminalize the payment of women for their surrogate services), the practice is heavily regulated. Only gestational surrogacy is permitted, and at least one of the intended parents must donate their genetic material and therefore be biologically related to the child. In addition, the intended mother must prove that she is unable to carry the child herself.

Same-sex couples in Utah aren't legally allowed to adopt children, either. So when the CEO of KSL's parent company justified the decision not to air the show by explaining that it contained inappropriate content for family viewing time, he was perfectly in line with the state's definition of family values. According to the estimates of its residents, the state is on its way to being the best place in the U.S. to live. But as of now, there's no such thing as a new normal in Utah -- there's only the strictly traditional.

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Lindsay Abrams is an assistant editor at Salon and a former writer and producer for The Atlantic's Health Channel.

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