“Double Income, Kids,” a documentary about gay parenting in Israel was the virtual screening selection of the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival in June, during the last days of Gay Pride Month. It was co-sponsored by SOJOURN (Southern Jewish Resource Network for Gender and Sexual Diversity), and Out On Film, the LGBT film festival here.
The feature-length documentary, which was originally produced as a student film by a German filmmaker living in Israel, follows a gay male couple who have decided to become parents of twins.
The filmmaker, Hendrik Schafer, who has lived in Tel Aviv for the last seven years, said in comments prepared for the original release of the film in 2019 that he was struck by what he described as “the deep longing” of many gay men to become fathers in Israel.
Schafer found that attitude to be at odds with the assumption he developed as a gay man in Germany that he would be childless his entire life.
“In Tel Aviv I was confronted by a very different assumption. Over and over again, I heard gay men clearly expressing their desire to become fathers at some point in their lives. It seemed being gay was not to the exclusion of beginning a family unit, to the contrary.”
The film follows a gay couple living in Tel Aviv as they plan for the birth of two children by a surrogate mother in Portland, Oregon, 7,000 miles away from the Israeli city. The pregnancy, with all its legal and medical issues, has been handled by an international surrogacy agency, so the film is largely a sympathetic examination of the personal issues involved with gay parenting.
It generally avoids the considerable controversy in 2016 and 2017 within Israel, while the film was being made, over surrogacy for same-sex couples.
The issue came to a head in 2018 when Israel’s parliament, with the determined support of ultra-Orthodox political parties, denied access to surrogacy to same-sex couples and single men, while at the same time supporting it for single women and heterosexual couples.
The decision by members of the Israel parliament came despite the fact that the country gives broad legal protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation, and gays are allowed to serve in the military.
Out Magazine describes Tel Aviv as “the gay capital of the Middle East,” and an American Airlines survey called it among the world’s top gay travel destinations.
Since “Double Income, Kids” premiered in 2019, the Israel Supreme Court has decided in a unanimous opinion that the law banning same-sex surrogacy is discriminatory. In February of 2020, the court ruled that gays and lesbians and single men should have access to surrogacy services that are provided by the government. It gave the government a year to right that wrong.
On July 11, the high court again ruled that banning surrogacy for same sex couples and single men was unconstitutional and gave the legislators another six months to change the law.
Until the law is changed, a large number of gay men and others who want children have relied on international surrogacy agencies to work out the complex medical and legal process of finding a female surrogate and an egg donor and seeing the pregnancy through to a successful conclusion.
The fee that is mentioned in the film for these services is 600,000 Israeli shekels or about $185,000, a considerable sum in a country where recent estimates of the average yearly income is about $36,000.
The high price of the arrangements was cited in an article in the leading Israel newspaper Haaretz that gay male couples often opt for surrogate twin births, to avoid the cost of going through the considerable cost of another pregnancy.
How the two men come up with the money and, in fact, many other personal details of their everyday lives, remain unexamined in the film.
But “Double Income, Kids” is less concerned with looking at the complex political and societal issues of gay parenting than how the process works out in the lives of the two men in the film and their respective families.
For Schafer, the director, who spent over 1 ½ years making the film, the long process of seeing how the two men choose to become fathers presented him with a different way of confronting his own life as a gay man.
“At first I wondered if this stance was a denial of homosexuality as “biological destiny” and an attempt to alleviate pressure and to find acceptance among their families. And yet this confrontation has left me wondering if perhaps there is a different answer, perhaps the longing for fatherhood is a very human one, which I have simply repressed.”
“Double Income, Kids” is available on www.Dekkoo.com.