In July of 2011, dining at a mutually loved restaurant on their first date after meeting online, Hark Tagunicar and Colin Verbesey hit it off quickly. Their shared fandom for Harry Potter served as the perfect icebreaker, and they bonded over the beloved books. Usually not a topic on first dates, the two also talked about their strong desires to have children one day.
Talk of families and wizards didn’t scare either of them off. Four years later, Hark and Colin exchanged vows, Potter-themed rings, and combined their last names to become The Verbicars. The timing was perfect, as just one week prior, Colin stood on the Supreme Court steps while same-sex marriage was legalized nationally.
Shortly after their wedding, they began the process to have a baby through surrogacy. Colin’s career as a public school teacher provides him with excellent health insurance with Aetna, covering in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedures 90% of up to $100,000. That is some Gucci-level coverage, and it’s extremely helpful when you take into account all the additional costs that come with having a baby post-conception.
However, although their IVF coverage is impeccable, it does not apply to surrogates. And since surrogacy is the only way for two gay men to have a biological child, Hark and Colin have been fighting for over two years against this discriminatory policy.
Aetna claims that they are not discriminating against gay couples because they do not cover IVF through surrogates for anyone. While it may be true that they do not cover surrogates for both straight and gay couples, that they are not discriminating is completely false. They are still denying equitable opportunities for gay couples to start a family. Whereas straight couples have multiple advanced reproductive options that are covered by insurance, there is only one option for gay men to do so — IVF with a surrogate. By not covering the IVF procedure for a surrogate in this case, Aetna is discriminating against gay men based on their gender.
“It is like covering vasectomies and not tubal ligation and claiming, ‘We don’t allow tubal ligation for anyone, so no discrimination!’” says Colin Verbicar. “Maintaining the current policy would be covering something for one gender and banning something for another gender, even if it was for the same need.”
Gay or straight, surrogacy should be an option for any couple who is having fertility struggles. The financial burden of IVF procedures should not be a roadblock any family has to deal with. And just as surrogacy is the only option for two men, it is also the only option in many cases for a man and a woman. While some may suggest adoption when a couple does not have access to IVF coverage, taking away the choice to have a biological child is still discriminatory. Furthermore, adoption comes with its own financial hurdles and has been a challenging, red-tape laden process for LBGTQ couples.
Over the last two years, the Verbicars have worked with lawyers, nonprofits, advocates, and lawmakers in both the state government of Virginia and at the federal level. It’s been a long journey as they’ve made efforts to give LGBTQ couples equal and equitable access to the family planning/building benefits available to married, straight couples.
Ask any pregnant woman just how long those nine months feel and then consider how arduous it must feel to not even be at that point yet. When expanding my own family is about as complicated as picking up a $7 bottle of wine and throwing on some Al Green, it feels unconscionable to expect couples who can’t conceive to travel anything short of a clear path forward.
When asked about how their legal road to a family has affected their relationship and marriage, Hark described the process as “emotionally exhaustive.”
“Most couples tend to reach that stressful point when they are actually going through the IVF cycle process. Will the embryo survive this time? How many more cycles do we have left? Will the baby be healthy?” Hark points out. “We haven’t even gotten to that point yet! We haven’t even had a chance to have the opportunity to reach that stressful stage.”
And while progress has been made — the state of Hawaii and some private companies offer equal access to financial and health benefits for straight and gay couples — Hark and Colin do not believe fair and equitable measures will reach their state of Virginia soon enough. They recently set up a GoFundMe page to help offset the out-of-pocket costs of IVF and to aid in compensating a surrogate when they find one.
The Verbicars recently hit another roadblock in their path to parenthood. Their surrogate had an unforeseen medical issue pop up and she had to back out of carrying Hark and Colin’s child. They remain hopeful about finding the right person to help them start their family, but this was still a big blow to their morale. Currently, they are open to and exploring all possible avenues to fill this role. Friends and family have been casting wide nets in an effort to find a woman medically able and willing to carry their future baby.
The fight for equal rights for LGBTQ people is still ongoing. The right to marry may have been won, but our society is still failing this community and their families in so many ways when it comes to equal access and protections. Nothing less than equal and equitable is acceptable. Nothing less is right.