Culturally, it seems a lifetime ago when the Catholic Church in Britain withdrew from its work in adoption and foster care after finding itself unable to conform to legal demands to assess same-sex couples as potential adopters and foster parents.
The bishops argued that the available evidence showed children flourished best in two-parent families established on marriage between a man and a woman.
A large number of potential same-sex parents willing to adopt children from care homes were promised by campaigners to justify the new policy. It is not likely that they ever materialised in substantial numbers, though some high-profile examples soon came into the public arena. Such a failure did not matter, of course, if the real point of the exercise was to equate same-sex unions with heterosexual marriages.
Within five years, David Cameron forced this very point home by redefining marriage. He created a new orthodoxy and it has since become a heresy to challenge it. This means that today, for example, not only can comic writers like David Walliams describe a lesbian wedding in a children’s book without so much a murmur of disapproval, but the Government can also issue diktats about how such relationships must be taught in schools.
Yet for all such efforts traditional marriage and same-sex marriage remain objectively very different, not least in their capacity to generate new life. The responsibility of parenthood that flowed from marriage, rather than a sentimental or erotic notion of love, was, in fact, the major reason why marriage has been until now a privileged, and cherished, institution.
The physiological complementarity of the sexes and their potential to create families has presented a perceived awkward inequality to reformers, which is now to be addressed further through the reform of the laws on surrogacy.
Campaigners who speak of “equal love” now also trumpet the rights of “gay families” and, given the range of genders coming into acceptance, socially and legally, there may soon be “trans families” and “nonbinary families” – the range is endless.
Such changes are in the pipeline thanks to a rather limited public consultation on surrogacy being conducted jointly by the Law Commission of England and Wales and the Scottish Law Commission until October 11.
Together they are proposing to introduce commercial surrogacy into Britain while restricting the rights of surrogate mothers to keep the babies they carry.
If accepted by the Government, the advertising of surrogacy services by individual women or by surrogacy companies would also be permitted and “double donation” surrogacy, in which neither of the commissioning parents are related genetically to the child, will be “facilitated”. International surrogacy would also be “streamlined” under the proposals.
The focus is invariably on the liberalisation of the law and the allocation of greater power to commissioning parents, and not on whether surrogacy is either desirable or beneficial to society in general.
There are, in fact, no ethical objections raised against surrogacy whatsoever, and certainly not on religious grounds. Indeed, it is only within the contemporary context of secularisation that such proposals could have ever arisen.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church expresses the teaching, however, that surrogacy is a gravely immoral act (paragraph 2376) because ordinarily it dissociates the husband and wife and allows the intrusion of a third person. The Catechism says it infringes the child’s right to be born of a mother and father known to the child and bound to each other by marriage, and it betrays the right of the spouses to become a mother and a father only through each other.
It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the proposals are being opposed by Catholics. The Anscombe Bioethics Centre argues in its submission that it is surely in everyone’s interest that pregnancy must not be seen as “just another job”. The submission proceeds to throw up a series of objections based on just some possible scenarios without stretching its imagination too strenuously.
But as night follows day there will be many unforeseen consequences which at the moment can exist only in the imagination.
Wesley J Smith, writing for First Things, hinted at a little of what can be expected, recalling the example of an Australian couple who used a Thai woman to conceive twins. When one of the babies was born with Down’s syndrome, they refused to take it home. The surrogate mother later learned the father was a sex offender and tried to gain custody of the baby girl, but a court ruled against her while ordering that the father should not be allowed alone with his daughter.
Smith also raises the prospect of surrogacy assisting in the advance and acceleration of eugenics through, for instance, the selection of donor fathers solely on the basis of their physical or mental attributes.
It is inevitable that things will get a lot worse before they ever get better. Amid such chaos and confusion it is vital that Christians cling ever more resolutely to the precious and salvific truths of our faith.