SALT LAKE CITY — Last April, Utah legislator Christine Johnson wrote an e-mail she titled "You may want to sit down." It was a long e-mail to two friends, and it boiled down to this: She would be honored to have their baby.
She would be willing to endure the varicose veins, she said, and the mood swings, and the questions that would certainly arise.
Johnson, a Democrat from Salt Lake City, serves in the Utah House of Representatives, one of two openly lesbian legislators. So the fact that she is unmarried and now pregnant will undoubtedly raise eyebrows, as will the fact that she is carrying this baby for two gay men.
She has chosen to speak publicly about the circumstances of her pregnancy now, before the Legislature convenes this month, in the hopes of preventing distraction during the serious work of the session, she says. She is now in her fifth month, and her slender body is starting to show a slight bulge.
She knows that it is hard, as a public official, to have a truly private life. But even beyond that, she says, "It's my goal to live my life authentically."
Johnson's decision to be artificially impregnated rose out of a dinner conversation with the two gay Utah men last spring. The men, who were married in California during the brief period when gay marriage there was legal, talked about how much they wanted a child. Adoption is out of the question, since in Utah there is this Catch-22: an unmarried couple can't adopt, and Utah does not recognize gay marriage.
Johnson, 41, has a 17-year-old daughter from a two-year marriage. She got her daughter's approval, and the support of her own mother and siblings, before making her decision to become the surrogate mother. She is not being paid to carry the baby. In the parlance of surrogacy law, Johnson is a "traditional surrogate" rather than a "gestational surrogate"; the latter is the term for mothers who carry a child but are not biologically related to it. Under Utah law, gestational surrogacy is allowed only for married couples.
The two men who will be the baby's fathers "will be wonderful parents," she predicts. To those who argue that a child does best with both a mother and a father, Johnson counters that "gender or sexual orientation is less important than children being welcomed into a supportive, loving home."
"This child is going to have an amazing life," she says about the baby. "It's going to have so much acceptance and love." To have a child who is wanted so much — "how can that be wrong?"
She was only six weeks pregnant when she told her first legislative colleague, Sen. Howard Stephenson, a Republican from Draper with whom she served on the revenue and taxation interim committee. Since that day, Stephenson has periodically brought Johnson eggs from his chickens. "I thought it might be helpful for the nutrition of the baby," he explains.
Stephenson is a conservative man. You can hear the hesitation in his voice when he is asked to talk about the potential reaction of his colleagues to Johnson's pregnancy. But he is clear about his own feelings: "I'm not one to judge other people, but I do respect any woman who will carry and bear a child for a childless couple." He adds, "I have my own standards and beliefs, but I don't want to impose them on another person. … I don't want to impose my judgment on Christine or the couple that is receiving the baby."
In 2003, when he attended the Giant in our City award given to then-LDS Church president Gordon B. Hinckley, he was seated next to Congregation Kol Ami Rabbi Tracee Rosen and her gay partner. "She told us of her admiration and respect and love for President Hinckley," Stephenson remembers. "And she said he contacted her personally to make sure both she and her partner would attend. When I heard that, I thought 'Should I take a lesson from the way a prophet of the church treats gay people?' Frankly, that has changed my approach to how I interact with gay people and gay legislators."
He still thinks marriage should be reserved for a man and a woman, and that having both a mother and a father in the home "is the optimum, and what every baby deserves." But, he adds, "it's my responsibility to show respect and love for one of God's daughters."
Babies, no matter how they are conceived, may trump ideology in the Legislature. House Speaker David Clark, R-Santa Clara, also a Mormon, echoes Stephenson's reaction. "At the end of the day, it's the gift of life" that is important, he says. He adds that "there is an unusual ribbon on this package."
Johnson says she thinks most of her constituents — in a mostly liberal section of Salt Lake City's east bench — will not react negatively to her pregnancy. She acknowledges that "there are so many parts of this story that people could object to," but asks this question: "Who wants to live their life dependent on the affirmation and approval of others as evidence that their life has value? I certainly don't."
She wants to make decisions "that feel true to me," she says. Johnson was born on the East Coast and moved with her family to Provo when she was 8. After graduating from Timpview High School, she moved back east to be a nanny and left The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
She says that before agreeing to be the surrogate, she did online research about how surrogate mothers cope with handing over a child after pregnancy.
"I found out that although surrogate mothers have a vested interest in the health and well-being of the child, they know that they're carrying the child for someone else, and that makes it easier" to give the child up, she says. Johnson's arrangement with the men is that the child will know her as its mother but that she will have an "aunt-type relationship." She has not revealed the names of the fathers.
The baby is due on the summer solstice. Johnson hopes to have a home birth. In the meantime, she is eating organic foods and is craving clementines.
e-mail: [email protected]