Mother of two says that Registers Iceland and The Childbirth Leave Fund have known for years about the discrimination lesbian mothers must endure, when asked to provide the institutions with consent for assisted reproductive technique used in conception. She claims that its only now since the matter has been put on the spot in the media that the institutions have been forced to come up with a solution.
Lately lesbian mothers have been protesting to have to hand in a written consent to officials, stating that the non biological mother agreed to the to assisted reproductive technique used in the pregnancy. Without the consent she’s not accepted as the child’s other legal parent and doesn’t receive maternity leave. The mothers say it’s pure discrimination seeing that straight couples are not asked to do the same.
Judging by media coverage it would seem that the officials or rather institutions in question, The Registers Iceland (i. Þjóðskrá) and The Childbirth Leave Fund (i. Fæðingarorlofssjóður) might not have been aware of this discrimination before 2012, says a mother of two. However she points out that the problem has been known to them for many, many years and they’ve done nothing to fix it.
“Registers Iceland and The Childbirth Leave Fund have known about this problem for years now, and done nothing,” says Svava Snæberg, a mother of two, pointing out to the fact that she and her ex-wife Hulda Hauksdóttir complained about it to The Childbirth Leave Fund many years ago. But all they got was a ‘copy-paste answer’.
According to Svava, she and Hulda entered into ‘registered cohabitation’ (i. staðfest samvist) in 2006 assuming it would benefit them, since they were starting a family. “We were pretty sure that we would automatically both be legal parents of a child that Hulda was carrying,” explains Svava. “The cohabitation was a formality to us. It didn’t even feel like we were getting married, since some fundamental rights were still missing and the whole process was pretty humiliating. Yet we took what was handed to us because, as I say, we thought that it would guarantee us both legal rights as parents.”
Svava and Hulda were soon proven wrong. Registers Iceland wouldn’t accept Svava as the child’s other mother, unless she provided the institution with a written mutual consent for the assisted reproductive technique that helped them conceive. “We were really hurt when we found out. But we had no other choice than to provide the consent, in order for me to become the child’s legal parent and receive paid maternity leave,” she recalls and adds that what really struck her and Hulda, was when they found out that in instances when straight couples had conceived with assisted reproductive technique the males had not handed in this kind of consent.
“…because of how fast the manager replied, it was pretty obvious this was not the first time someone was asking questions.”
By the time Svava gave birth to her and Hulda’s second son in 2012, same-sex couples had already been granted the same marriage rights as opposite-sex couples in 2010. So Svava and Hulda thought that a finish line had finally been reached on the road to equal rights for all couples. “So you can just imagine our surprise when we were asked again for the same signed consent for our second child,” says Svava. “In my anger I wrote the manager of The Childbirth Leave Fund demanding an explanation.” What Svava wanted to know was why lesbian couples were asked to hand in this consent, while straight (opposite-sex ) couples were not. Which to her was a clear act of discrimination, as she wrote in the e-mail dated May 29, 2012, and a violation of the rule of equality before the law.
The manager of The Childbirth Leave Fund, Leó Örn Þorleifsson responded on May 31, 2012, explaining how the law doesn’t discriminate against lesbian couples. Given that it clearly states that if a child is conceived is with assisted reproductive technique, then the birth mother’s partner – male of female – always has to hand in a written consent for the procedure to Registers Iceland and The Childbirth Leave Fund. In order to be accepted as the child’s legal parent and receive maternity or fraternity leave.
In short: straight (opposite-sex) couples actually are supposed to hand in the same kind of consent as lesbian couples. However if they don’t, as Leó Örn points out in his reply, then it is hard for The Childbirth Leave Fund to know how the couple’s children were conceived. And that’s when a rule called ‘Pater est’ comes into play.
“The Pater est rule that is based on the presumption that if the straight (opposite-sex) couple is married or in a registered partnership, then the male is in all probability the child’s father,“ says Svava about the rule Leó Örn explained to her in his reply. “Which means that when a child is born to a straight couple the system automatically gives paternity to the male.
But keep in mind that in the instances where assisted reproductive technique is used, the sperm sometimes comes from a donor, not the husband or the male registered partner of the mother. Yet he’s automatically accepted as the child’s legal parent. Because it seems that no one from Registers Iceland or The Childbirth Leave Fund bothers to check it out.“
Registers Iceland forced to acknowledge problem
Svava says that the correspondence between her and the manager in 2012 only shows that these institutions have known about this glitch in the system for years, without doing anything about it. “And because of how fast the manager replied, it was pretty obvious this was not the first time someone was asking questions,” she says “He bascially gave us a ‘copy-paste answer’. Which indicates that they’ve know about it even longer.”
It’s finally now, three years later after Svava and Hulda complained about the matter, that Registers Iceland and the Childbirth Fund are trying to come up with a solution. Only after they’ve been put on the spot, says Svava, with recent media coverage of a lesbian couple in exactly the same situation as she and Hulda were.
“Registers Iceland excuse is that it as has just been following the rules and that’s why it hasn’t done anything about it. The institution is trying to work out some kind of deal with Art Medica [the only fertility clinic in Iceland] in order to save lesbian couples the trouble of having to bring in the paperwork,” says Svava and adds that she can’t see why the fertility clinic needs to be involved. “Simply because Art Medica has nothing to do with setting the law. And furthermore, why should the clinic only have to provide Registers Iceland with paperwork from lesbian couples? Why not straight couples as well? That’s just another example of discrimination.”
Svava beliefs that the underlying issue here is the mindset that needs to be changed. “The truth of the matter is, that once more we are faced with a blatant reluctance to secure the rights of same-sex couples. When nothing is done for years to prevent further discrimination once discovered, it tell us that the authorities are still putting same-sex couples on the opposite end of the scale.” A problem, she says, that needs to be fixed. “Otherwise we’re yet again being left with partial human rights.”
Registers Iceland registers a range of information on Iceland’s residents and real properties, and provides related services such as assessment, allowing electronic access to the registers and issuing certificates, passports, ID cards and Íslykill. More on skra.is
•Cohabitating people can register their cohabitation with Registers Iceland.
•The rights of cohabitating people are affected by whether their cohabitation is registered or not. When cohabitation is registered, the individuals’ legal positions are in some respects clearer than they are for those who have not registered their cohabitation. However, they still do not have the same rights as married people.
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