House bill that would allow unmarried couples to enter surrogacy agreement advances to Senate

“There is no fundamental right to a child for unmarried parents,” Rep. Merrill Nelson, R-Grantsville argued.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) State Rep. Matthew Gwynn, R-Farr West, working at the Utah Capitol on Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022, is sponsoring a bill, HB51, that would strike a marriage requirement for couples entering a gestational agreement.

A bill that would strike a marriage requirement for couples entering a gestational surrogacy agreement moved forward in the Utah House of Representatives on Tuesday.

HB51, sponsored by state Rep. Matthew Gwynn, R-Farr West, passed on a divided 43-32 vote. The bill will now move forward for further consideration in the Utah Senate.

“It amends the language that currently requires the intended parents in gestational agreements to be married,” Gwynn said. “Currently, under code, if an unmarried couple chooses to have a family (existing) statute prohibits them from working with their attorneys and their physicians from using surrogacy as a method of becoming pregnant.”

Before it passed in the House, the bill drew criticism from Rep. Merrill Nelson, R-Grantsville, who said he didn’t understand why the Utah Legislature would want to eliminate the marriage requirement.

“As a matter of public policy, we favor having children born into and reared by a married couple. That’s our preference, I realize there are many exceptions. But couples who choose not to be married should not be an exception,” Nelson said during floor debate of the bill. “There is no fundamental right to a child for unmarried parents, and so I realize that our society is moving away from marriage, and the institution of marriage has been weakened by court decisions, but that’s nothing that we should submit to or surrender to.”

Nelson argued that children born and raised by married couples are less likely to experience poverty and crime.

In response to Nelson, Gwynn said that a growing number of unmarried couples are delaying marriage and cohabiting.

“While unfortunate as it may be, the fact of the matter is that we do have an increasing number of households where people are cohabitating and they are not married,” Gwynn said. “We don’t attempt to even control what goes on in their bedrooms.”

Minority leader Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, expressed support for Gwynn’s bill and said it poses an “unjustifiable burden and interference with personal intimate choices that people are making in their own lives.”

“We talk a lot about the state of Utah and the legislature not interfering with the private choices individuals make in their private life about the most personal decisions that they can make,” King said. “I just don’t see that there is a sufficient and strong interest in the legislature dictating in this kind of a personal and intimate decision.”

Gwynn introduced the bill after hearing from a woman living in his district, Brittany Ross, who said a Utah statute prevented her from having a baby with her boyfriend of three years via surrogate.

Ross, who shared her story during a House Judiciary Committee hearing last week, said she received a hysterectomy at the age of 21 after experiencing medical issues.

After going to a fertility clinic and choosing her sister to be her surrogate, Ross said an attorney told her she needed to be married to her boyfriend “before we can actually put the embryo into the surrogate.”

“It didn’t really make a whole lot of sense to me. I want to have a child like everyone else. I can’t,” Ross said. “The three of us can’t do this process unless both of us are married.”

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