This summer, I was finally able to legally marry my partner in our home state of California. After 14 years, it was fulfilling to be surrounded by family and pledge a lifelong commitment to the man with whom I'll spend the rest of my life. It's been a long road to marriage equality, and it seems we're still only halfway there.
For the last two decades I've been on another fulfilling journey with our community. It's made fewer headlines than our fight for marriage rights, but it's been so important for so many families just now finding that legal recognition.
Almost 20 years ago, I was approached by a young gay couple about having a baby through surrogacy. The future fathers wanted their child to share their genetics by combining the sperm of one partner with the eggs of the other partner's sister. Their neighbor had agreed to be their surrogate and carry the pregnancy.
This was new ground for me: I had never been approached by a gay couple interested in having a child through surrogacy. It was a new frontier for the entire reproductive community. In the early 1990s, same-sex marriage and family-building were pipe dreams, something not even fantasy movies would touch on.
At the same time, I was inspired. Even as a gay physician I had struggled with leaving behind the dream of having kids because I was gay. During that time, part of a gay man's acceptance of his sexuality had included giving up the idea of having kids. For both my parents and me, it was a hard truth to accept.
Then along came this couple with a vision for a family I thought wasn't possible. I was inspired, honored and impassioned to help these two young men build the family they so very much wanted.
Their challenge fit perfectly into what I believe to be my life's calling. My specialty of infertility is all about overcoming obstacles to pregnancy. While it may sound mundane today, the use of donor eggs and surrogacy as a way around this couple's "reproductive obstacle" was ground-breaking at the time.
It all pushed me to do some soul searching on what we "owed" the future child. I'm proud that helping warm, loving parents welcome children into this world is my life's work. For me personally, my mother has always been a strong influence in my life. Knowing in this case 20 years ago that the child would not have a mother, but would have two dads instead, was revolutionary back then, even for this gay physician. Again, it just wasn't being done.
In the mid-90s, the application of assisted reproductive treatments to gay men was also being questioned by medical professionals. Editorials were written on whether or not we should be providing fertility treatment to gay men at all. Common concerns expressed were that children of gay men would be stigmatized, that they would be more likely to become gay themselves, and that gay males may be more likely to be sexual predators and molest their own children (in fact, most child sexual predators are heterosexuals). I had even heard the argument that we needed to "preserve our resources" -- namely eggs -- for heterosexual couples in need of fertility care.
In the end, love for the child and family-building prevailed as open-minded medical professionals moved forward with fertility services to patients requesting assistance, whether they were gay or not. Over the past 20 years there has been a shift in societal acceptance of gay people, gay relationships, gay marriage and gay families. Nowhere has the shift been as dramatic as in gay men having children and raising families.
I'm proud to have been one of those very early adopters.
That first couple almost 20 years ago conceived in their initial treatment cycle, and they were over the moon when their daughter was born.
Shortly thereafter, several surrogacy agencies opened their services to gay men. The agencies provide surrogate candidates who carry the pregnancy and give birth to the baby. Women who provide this service are amazing individuals who give generously and freely to help others share in the joys of parenthood.
The use of egg donation and gestational surrogacy to allow gay men to have children of their own has now been used for nearly two decades. In the beginning gay men struggled to find willing physicians, attorneys, surrogates and egg donors to help them build their families. With the support of committed professionals on both coasts, the protocols for family building for gay men have slowly evolved. While surrogacy remains illegal in some states and in many countries, here in California we can help any same-sex couple with the hopes of building a family.
The demand for gay family building has continuously increased with interest from around the world. Simultaneously, the success rates with assisted reproduction have significantly increased providing very high success rates with egg donation and surrogacy treatment cycles. The live birth rate following transfer of embryos approaches 80 percent. Today, all gay men who are interested in having their own biological children can seek out fertility care and explore this option.
Whether my husband and I ever have children of our own, every LGBT person and same-sex couple I have helped build a family since has felt like a part of my extended family. I'm proud that this family is growing, and growing fast.
Dr. Guy Ringler is a board certified physician in both Obstetrics and Gynecology and Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility. He is a partner with California Fertility Partners.