Lesbian Utah legislator carrying baby for gay couple

Published January 8, 2010 6:46 pm
Surrogacy » Christine Johnson says she will be like an aunt to the child.
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Rep. Christine Johnson is not embarrassed to say it: She is moving a lounging sofa into her office for needed breaks this legislative session, and she will be carrying snacks with her around the Capitol.

The lesbian lawmaker, a Salt Lake City Democrat, is 16 weeks pregnant, carrying a baby for two gay men (a first, no doubt, for a Utah legislator).

In April, Johnson offered to be a surrogate for the Salt Lake County couple, her close friends, after they expressed frustration with the difficulty of adopting a child in Utah. State law forbids cohabiting, unmarried couples from adopting. But some gay couples venture to other states or try to adopt in Utah as single parents.

Johnson herself has a 17-year-old daughter from a two-year marriage to an ex-husband.

"I can very much empathize with their desire to become parents and share their lives with and open their hearts to a child," she says. "I'm immeasurably grateful to be a mother."

Johnson became pregnant in September -- on the first attempt -- with one of the men's sperm. He will have the same rights to the child as any biological father. But his partner, under Utah law, cannot be an adoptive parent.

"That may have to be it for them," she says.

Johnson offered to be a surrogate at no cost to save the couple the prohibitive price of hiring one -- as much as $100,000. (The men are picking up the medical tab.) She also is excited to help a couple who might not otherwise have been able to have a child.

The baby is due on the summer solstice, June 21. In the meantime, Johnson has committed to eating a healthful, organic diet. Fortunately, her prime craving has been for clementines.

At age 41, she was relieved to learn Friday that an amniocentesis and additional testing show the baby is free from genetic disorders that are more common with later pregnancies.

Both fathers, she says, have accompanied her on doctor visits, viewing ultrasound images with awe. (Johnson is not revealing the men's names.)

"To watch them get emotional when we look at the ultrasound and we see their baby, it is so gratifying for me to know I'm helping them become a family," Johnson says. "They are, in concert, just going to be perfect parents."

Still, the lawmaker is aware that many of her Capitol colleagues don't agree that gay and lesbian couples make great parents. In 2000, the Legislature approved the law that made it illegal for unmarried couples to be adoptive or foster parents. Many viewed it as a move to stop same-sex couples from being adoptive parents.

"Not only am I a single mother who's pregnant," Johnson says, "but I'm also a lesbian mother who is pregnant and having a baby for two gay men. That might be startling to some."

But she says she has not had any "negative feedback" from anyone in the Legislature. In fact, a conservative colleague, Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, recently brought her eggs from his own chickens.

"He thought it would be nutritious for the baby," she says. "The cultural excitement that we feel about the arrival of a new baby has not been denied to me at all. Everyone has been very gracious."

Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake, a mother of two, says she will be there as a "kindred spirit" to support Johnson during the session -- one of the first times, in recent memory, that a legislator has been pregnant.

"Pregnancy isn't a cakewalk," Chavez-Houck says. "But if anyone can handle it during the session, Christine can. ... She has amazing stamina and energy."

Chavez-Houck hopes to offer a legal fix to the new fathers. It's a long shot, but she is running a bill that would amend Utah adoption law to allow for second-parent adoptions: cases in which a child's biological parent wants an unmarried partner to be the second, adoptive parent.

For her part, Johnson vows to sponsor a bill, similar to ordinances recently adopted by Salt Lake City, that would provide a statewide ban on housing and employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

The two-term lawmaker, after breaking off a relationship that would have required a move to Oregon, expects to seek a third term this year.

She also plans to be an "aunt" to her soon-to-be newborn, who will be her biological son or daughter.

"The child will know I'm its mother," Johnson says, "and it was created with the intent of being loved by many people."

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