Let’s Talk About Love and Family, Ms. President

Let’s Talk About Love and Family, Ms. President
Photo Credit: Jay Lin

What you need to know

One year after Tsai’s election campaign in which she publicly voiced support for same-sex marriage, we now got to see how firmly she stands on the issue.

In the afternoon of Feb. 18, I joined other marriage equality advocates and LGBT families to have a candid discussion with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文). Tsai had in the morning met with religious leaders who opposed the Marriage Equality Bill, and it was our turn to share our tales and convince her why it is imperative to help pass the law now. Our group of about 20 included a pastor, couples, grandparents, parents of gays and, of course, babies.

One year after Tsai’s election campaign in which she publicly voiced support for same-sex marriage, we now got to see how firmly she stands on the issue — after the past five months of passionate protests, heated public hearings, and vitriolic smear tactics against gays.

We spent more than two hours individually telling our stories and sharing our insights with the president. When it was my turn, I shared with her that the U.S. currently has around 3 million LGBT parents with 6 million children, and 125,000 of these households have children under 18-years-old. Contrasted with Taiwan, the Taiwan Family Rights Advocacy currently has about 200 children of gay parents on its register. The population of the U.S. is 19 times larger than Taiwan, but the number of children in gay families differs more than 1,250 times. Does it seem reasonable or plausible for the U.S. and Taiwan to have such drastically different family structures and demographic patterns? Or are there underlying cultural, legal, societal impasses preventing a certain group of people from building families?

Taiwan has one of the lowest birth rates in the world, but ironically also boasts a highly advanced IVF medical know-how. Taiwan has roughly 300,000 people who suffer from infertility; many can overcome this through assisted reproductive technologies such as intrauterine insemination (IUI) or in vitro fertilization (IVF).

If you have visited an IVF clinic, like I have, you will see many young straight couples eager to find ways to get pregnant. But some women cannot because they were born without a uterus or had an illness or injury that resulted in permanent infertility. A Taiwanese celebrity, Kelly Huang (小嫻), was born without a uterus and came forward with her husband earlier this month to share their unfortunate experience of spending years of hard work and hundreds of thousands of U.S. dollars to have children in the U.S. through surrogacy, only to have it all fail.

I am fortunate to be a successful beneficiary of surrogacy, but can commiserate with and attest to the challenges and burdens of international surrogacy. I receive on average an inquiry every two to three days from friends, as well as strangers, gay and straight, single and married, Taiwanese and other nationalities. They all have strong desires to become parents and their last resort is surrogacy. I can easily sense their urgency and desperation, and I do all I can to help, because it is not easy.

But why does it have to be so hard? And why do governments like Taiwan forbid surrogacy when the need is present and real? Is it because surrogacy is unnatural and the process exploitative of women? Perhaps people conjure up images of women imprisoned like caged bears while getting their bile extracted.

My lovely surrogate and her wife, Emily and Valerie, realize that they can give a gift that is immeasurable and incomparable in value, joy, and happiness. After going through stages of physical and psychological evaluations, and numerous video Skype chats and meetings in person, we decided to embark on this journey together. After giving birth to two beautiful boys, Emily and Valerie's families, including their 8-year-old daughter, were all there to cherish this moment of unity, family, and life.

Photo Credit: Jay Lin

Is this scenario unnatural or exploitative? The same emotions are felt when babies are delivered into this world. So if my experience in the U.S. is not a singular foreign experience, then why can’t surrogacy be legal in Taiwan where the need is imminent and people are willing to be surrogates? Stringent procedural regulations need to be in place and many issues need to be thoroughly vetted and discussed at medical, economic, societal, administrative, and finally, legislative, levels.

For the last 20 years, the Taiwanese government, under various administrations, has attempted to draft a bill to introduce into the legislature, but so far it has gone nowhere. Meanwhile, people are getting desperate.

A few months ago, I helped a gay couple that was trying to get their newborns back from Cambodia via Vietnam. There was so much bureaucratic red tape and hurdles that my heart ached for those babies. A few nights ago, I had a mobile video conference call with a young straight couple in Kaohsiung, southern Taiwan, whose desire for a child gave me flashbacks to my own journey. While I was talking to them, a Belgian-Taiwanese intended father was playing with my babies in the other room, waiting to ask me more questions and get more reassurances on his path to fatherhood.

I shared with President Tsai my family story, the news of Kelly Huang’s failed surrogacy, and asked her to think about the huge discrepancy in the number of children under LGBT households in the U.S. versus Taiwan. I saw the president nod, the vice-president nod, the minister of justice nod, and the speaker of the house nod.

I hope they were nodding because they understand gay and straight people share the same desire of wanting to form legal partnerships and start families. What is different are the laws regulating love and family. So let’s talk about that, Ms. President.

Editor: Olivia Yang