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A movement to ban anonymous sperm donation has queer parents worried for their parental rights

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A growing movement to legally ban anonymous sperm donation has many LGBTQ+ parents worried for the future of their families.

While the popularity of DNA testing sites has made it all but impossible for donors to truly remain anonymous, a recent New York Times report outlines activists’ fears that legally requiring the information to be shared will place an outsized importance on genetics and could even lead to donors gaining parental rights.

As the Times put it, “It’s one thing for parents to choose transparency, but it’s quite another for the state to mandate it — enshrining into law, some fear, the notion that genetics are an essential part of being a family.”

The popularity of sites like 23andMe has already spurred many sperm banks to require that donors at least agree to end anonymity when a child turns 18, likely due to the inevitability of the child finding the donor anyway. But activists like Levi Sniff – who discovered in his 30s that he was conceived using a sperm donor and that he did not share DNA with his father – want the government to get involved.

Sniff co-founded the U.S. Donor Conceived Council to advocate for legal bans against sperm donor anonymity. For Sniff, discovering his genetics differed from that of his father shattered his sense of identity but also explained why he had always felt he was different from his family. By the time he discovered the donor’s identity, the donor had died.

But not every child feels the way Sniff does, especially kids of same-sex parents, whose conception stories are often not kept from them. It is, after all, typically quite clear they were not conceived genetically from both of their parents.

In fact, according to the Times, transparency about how kids are conceived often creates stronger bonds between the parents and their children. These kids do not face the same world-rocking surprise that Sniff did, and those who spoke with the Times were not too concerned with meeting the donors with whom they share DNA.

“He’s not that important,” said 11-year-old Estee Simmons, whose mother is a lesbian. Simmons does hope to meet her donor someday, but she isn’t at all in a rush to do so.

Sniff has already found some success with his movement, though. Last year, Colorado became the first state to require both sperm and egg banks to disclose information on donors to any child who asks for it once they turn 18. But LGBTQ+ groups were not concerned because the state also has certain legal protections in place for families who have used donors that keep their parental rights protected.

In the end, it is those protections that LGBTQ+ activists are seeking today. Rather than advocating for anonymity, groups like Family Equality are pushing for parentage laws that make it easier for LGBTQ+ parents to gain legal custody of their kids, as well as laws that reiterate egg and sperm donors have no parental rights.

The Uniform Law Commission, a bipartisan group of experts, has established the Uniform Parentage Act, a model from which states can craft their parentage laws. 

It may not be fair, but for now it is crucial that queer parents take extra steps to ensure they are legally bound to their children. The best way to do so, however, could vary by state. In June, the Movement Advancement Project (MAP) teamed up with four LGBTQ+ advocacy groups to outline LGBTQ+ parentage laws across the United States in a first-of-its-kind report.

At the time, Shelbi Day, chief policy officer for Family Equality, told LGBTQ Nation that it is crucial that parents and prospective parents are informed about the steps they should take to protect their families.

“Parents and those hoping to become parents should be proactive in knowing what their options are,” Day said, “and take steps to make sure that their parent-child relationship is recognized and legally protected. Doing so is the best way to protect our children, as this ensures that their child will have access to legal protections and important rights and benefits regardless of what the future may hold.”

The report says there are several pathways to legal parenthood, but Day said the “safest” way is through obtaining a court order, meaning an adoption or parentage judgment.

“These orders must be honored (given full faith and credit) in all 50 states,” Day said, “and that will remain true regardless of what the future holds.”

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