In December 2015, Germany’s highest court recognized a gay couple as the birth parents of a child . The judgment broke with long-held assumptions about the countries family law, which previously considered a child as always descending from a woman and a man and therefore received great attention in the media and among legal observers. Many organizations concerned with children’s rights and LGBT parenting publicly welcomed the verdict as a step towards a more inclusive society. Other institutions, however, diminished the ruling as having failed to recognize that a child can – by nature – never stem from two persons of the same sex.
The child, whose civil status was debated so controversially, was born by a surrogate worker in California. A gay couple from Berlin had hired the surrogate worker since the practice was prohibited in Germany. While the men were recognized as birth parents under Californian state law, the question of legal parenthood under German law kept national courts busy for several years. Controversies in this case grounded in the fact that Germany does not only ban surrogacy but also defines the woman who gives birth as legal mother. Legislators did, however, not clarify how to proceed if surrogacy was conducted abroad, in countries that accept the practice. In my talk, I discuss how parenthood was negotiated in the course of this trial. In contrast to many legal commentaries concerned with this case, I show that the judgment did not only mark a break in understandings of descent, but also in assumptions about the relationship between the German state and it’s individuals, which implicitly guided legal decision making in cases of cross-border surrogacy. In doing so, I also investigate former confrontations with surrogacy in Germany to show how convictions about the children’s legal parents in these cases became inseparable from understandings about children’s needs as well as assumption about Germany’s sovereignty and responsibility for citizen’s conduct abroad.
My study builds on scholarship in social sciences and critical legal studies that investigates the relationship between scientific and technological progress in the area of human reproduction and transformations in our perceptions of kinship. In contrast to many contemporary studies about cross-border surrogacy, I locate the source of challenges to parenthood and nationality, and with this the motor of societal change, not only within the area of new reproductive technologies and practices. Rather, my study investigates cross-border surrogacy as a window that allows us to observe how technology and legal cultures interact to challenge ideas about familial and national belonging.
3 October 2017; 14h00 – 16h00
Room AV 91.21 (Faculty of Social Sciences, Parkstraat 45, Leuven – http://www.kuleuven.be/lokalen/50075058.htm)
Organised by Life Sciences & Society Lab (CeSO, KU Leuven)