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Why Israeli gays opt for US surrogate births

Although prohibitively expensive, US surrogacy ensures smoother path to Israeli citizenship.

The surrogate and her husband were former military and Christian. “But when we met them, we knew immediately that they were the right fit,” Greenfield said. “They share the same values and are truly an extension of our family.”

The process from finding a surrogate to the birth was about year, but establishing Israeli citizenship for a child born in the U.S. posed other challenges. After a child is born to a surrogate, parents must submit documents to Israel with DNA proof of parenthood. At the same time, the surrogate mother has to legally withdraw from parenthood, but only if a social worker appointed by the court attests that the circumstances justify the withdrawal. And finally, a conversion to Judaism may be performed to ensure the Jewishness of the newborn.

Greenfield said the process is emotionally draining, especially when family and friends are so far away. Of course, the biggest deterrent is cost. Health care in Israel is covered by the government for all citizens whether it is a routine check up or fertility treatments. That’s not the case for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender couples who want to have children.

A court decision in 2005 granted lesbian couples the right to adopt a child born to the other partner by artificial insemination, and while it was a milestone event for a population that dreamed of parenthood, it fell short of entitling same sex couples to surrogacy rights.

Etai Pinkas, a gay rights activist and the youngest city councilman in Tel Aviv, was denied access to the Israeli surrogacy program last year. He recently appealed to the Supreme Court, but was told by a representative a couple of weeks ago that the surrogacy law does not apply to same sex couples. Pinkas and his partner are now in the process of appealing to the Kinneset to redefine surrogacy laws. “This is pure discrimination that same sex parenthood is not supported by the state of Israel,” said Pinkas, who is also searching for surrogacy options outside the country. “I’m hoping to set a precedent here. We just want to have kids.”

Even though the state rejected Pinkas’ appeal, the state agreed that his petition is wake-up call for Israel to re-examine the concept of family, parenthood and human dignity.

Einat Wilf, a Labor member of the Knesset, said the Israeli government is in the process of reviewing fertility laws. When asked whether the country would consider loosening such laws to increase fertility rates for Israelis, Wilf said the laws are focused on improving access to healthcare not boosting demographics.

John Weltman, president and founder of Circle Surrogacy, said the very culture of Israel bodes well for surrogacy. “Family values are strong in this country,” said Weltman, who was a commercial litigator before founding Circle in 1995. “But no matter where people are from, surrogacy shouldn’t be perceived as just a process for those who want to have kids. It is about doing the most intimate thing in the world with a total stranger who will change your life forever.”

Weltman began focusing Circle’s attention on Israel after meeting Ron Poole-Dayan, an Israeli who moved to the U.S. to have children. Dayan said it was absurd a decade ago to think Israeli same-sex couples would even consider having children. “But there has been a critical mass of Israeli gay couples who have accumulated enough wealth,” said Dayan, who has 9-year-old twins. “I do not think gay couples are attempting to fit into Israeli society. It’s more of a genuine shared appreciation of the joys of having a family.”