Gay couple face long wait in custody fight

Bangkok court orders DNA tests, sets hearing date for March in tussle over surrogate-born child

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

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

American national Gordon Lake and his Spanish husband Manuel Santos, both 41, are battling with 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 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 after Ms Patidta handed over the infant after giving birth. But she later changed her mind, saying that she did not think a gay couple could take care of the baby, and accused the men 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. It was introduced after back-to-back scandals last year prompted the Thai military government to clamp down on a 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 at Bangkok's Central Juvenile and Family Court yesterday morning. A United States embassy official was also present, but he declined to comment.

About a dozen of the couple's supporters also turned up.

The legal battle is taking a toll on the men. They have a two-year-old son, Alvaro, who is being looked after by relatives in Spain where the couple have a home.

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

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 a 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 syndrome.

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

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 31, 2015, with the headline 'Gay couple face long wait in custody fight'. Subscribe