The state of Kansas is trying to force a sperm donor to pay child support for a child conceived by a lesbian couple through artificial insemination in a case that calls into question the relevance of some parenting laws in the face of shifting definitions of family.
According to reports, 46-year-old William Marotta answered an online ad to donate sperm. In 2009, he signed an agreement giving up any parental rights to any child conceived and birthed to then-couple Angela Bauer and Jennifer Schreiner. That agreement also absolved Marotta of any financial responsibility for any children born to the couple.
But when Bauer and Schreiner filed for state assistance this year after Bauer was diagnosed with a “significant illness” that prevents her from working, Kansas officials demanded they name the sperm donor so the state could collect child support for the now 3-year-old girl. When the couple objected, DCF told them if the sperm donor’s name was not provided, it would deny any health benefits for their children because they were withholding information. Schreiner complied, and this saga began to unfold.
The state contends the agreement entered into between Marotta and the couple is invalid because Kansas law requires a licensed physician to perform any artificial insemination, which allegedly did not happen in this case. “Speaking generally, all individuals who apply for taxpayer-funded benefits through DCF are asked to cooperate with child support enforcement efforts,” Angela de Rocha, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Department for Children and Families, said in a statement. “If a sperm donor makes his contribution through a licensed physician and a child is conceived, the donor is held harmless under state statue. In cases where the parties do not go through a physician or a clinic, there remains the question of who actually is the father of a child or children.”
“DCF is required by statute to establish paternity and then pursue child support from the non-custodial parent,” she wrote.
While Kansas officials would like to suggest this is a simple case, the fact remains that is simply not true. It’s easy to see why sperm or egg donors should be held harmless from financial support for children conceived using their genetics. These are, after all, contractual arrangements where the donating parties very specifically do not want parenting roles and are simply providing a service. To suggest unending financial responsibility, or the potential for such, is a cost associated with donating sperm or eggs and those donors would quickly evaporate, which is why Kansas, and many other states have laws on the books that deny that kind of liability.
However, those laws do not always serve the entire population. LGBT couples who want to conceive and start a family of their own can be left at the mercy of practitioners who refuse to take them as clients. When that happens, those couples create those relationships on their own, which is precisely the case here. For the state of Kansas to insist financial liability attaches in this context simply because the couple went outside the boundaries of traditional practitioners (that may or may not have been interested in working with them) smacks of an ulterior motive.
Could this attempt to force Marotta to contribute child support based on his sperm donation to a lesbian couple be designed to discourage assisting LGBT couples create families of their own in the state? Why else would lawmakers undertake the expense of a lawsuit if not to send a message to others considering similar donations?
Why else would the state call into question a contract that mirrors legal liability for similar genetics donations if not to prove lawmakers prefer IVF conception in some, but not all circumstances? Seems to me those are the questions lawmakers should have to address, not whether a mechanic who serves with his wife as foster parent should be forced to help financially support Schreiner and Bauer’s child?
Photo from Grace Hebert via flickr.