Gay couple in for long wait in Thailand for custody of surrogate-born baby  

Gordon Lake (left) and Manuel Santos (right) with nine-month-old Carmen at the Central Juvenile and Family Court in Bangkok on Oct 30, 2015.
Gordon Lake (left) and Manuel Santos (right) with nine-month-old Carmen at the Central Juvenile and Family Court in Bangkok on Oct 30, 2015.PHOTO: EPA

BANGKOK - A gay couple fighting for the custody of their surrogate-born child face a long wait in Thailand after a Bangkok court on Friday (Oct 30) ordered DNA tests and set a hearing date in March next year.

American national Gordon Lake and his Spanish husband Manuel Santos, both 41, are fighting surrogate mother Patidta Kusolsang, 34, for the custody of a baby girl who was born in January but unable to leave the country because the surrogate mother refused to cede parental rights to them.

The baby girl, named Carmen, has been cared for by the two men for the past nine months as Ms Patidta handed the infant to the couple after birth. But she later changed her mind, saying that she did not think a gay couple could take care of the baby well, and accused the duo of human trafficking.

The couple had filed a motion to seek parental rights under a new law banning commercial surrogacy, which came into effect in July this year. It was introduced after back-to-back scandals last year prompted the Thai military government to clamp down on the erstwhile free-wheeling surrogacy trade.

A provision in this new law allows biological parents to seek parental rights. According to the couple, Ms Patidta is not Carmen's biological mother as the embryo implanted in her came from the egg of an anonymous donor.

Ms Patidta has filed a counter-motion.

Both parties were present at Bangkok's Central Juvenile and Family Court on Friday morning. A United States embassy official was also present, but he declined comment.

About a dozen of the couple's supporters also turned up, wearing badges and carrying hand-made signs in support of Carmen and the gay fathers.

One of them, Ms Nisa Phothiwechsakul, 55, told The Straits Times she felt the child would be nurtured better by the couple.

"The surrogate mother should let them have the baby," said the herbal medicine doctor. "She should keep her promise."

The strain of the legal battle is showing on the couple, who have a two-year-old son Alvaro, who is being cared for by relatives in Spain where they have a home.

"I'm starting to have problems because this is taking too much time," said Mr Santos, who runs a media company with five employees in Spain. But he vowed to stay in Thailand till the case is resolved.

According to the Medical Travel Quality Alliance, which promotes quality treatment for medical tourists, some 1,000 surrogate babies used to be born in Thailand each year.

But the government reined in the business after news emerged in July last year that a surrogate baby had allegedly been abandoned by his Australian parents in Thailand because he had Down's Syndrome.

Weeks later, a Japanese man was reportedly found to have fathered at least 16 children through surrogacy arrangements.

tanhy@sph.com.sg