A gay couple looking forward to having their own baby after 16 years together have had their dreams dashed after the Catholic Church refused to approve test tube babies for gay couples.

Dean Byram, 37, and his partner Jon Lown, 39, were set to have their baby through the fertility unit at Vincent Pallotti Hospital in Pinelands, an elite section of South Africa.

“We have an egg donor and a woman prepared to be the surrogate mother,” said Byram. “I have undergone the necessary psychological testing and they were booked to undergo the same testing, along with fertility testing, in two weeks. But then the doctor told me that the hospital board had said he couldn’t go ahead because the hospital is run by the Catholic Church, and Rome had said they could not do in-vitro fertilization for unmarried or gay couples.”

On Thursday, Vincent Pallotti’s manager, Veronica de Bruyn, confirmed that the procedure “could not be done” there.

She said that when Life Healthcare, which owns the hospital, bought it from the Pallottine missionary sisters (a Catholic order), they agreed to run it “based on Catholic principles” in exchange for being able to retain the name.

However, constitutional law expert Professor Pierre de Vos believes the hospital may be contravening the couple’s constitutional right to equality.

Describing the case as a unique clash of the right to freedom of religion and the right to equality, De Vos, professor of constitutional law at the University of the Western Cape, said the hospital provided a public health service, rather than operating as a religious institution.

“I suspect a court would find they cannot discriminate against gay people, in the same way they wouldn’t be allowed to discriminate against, say, black people,” De Vos said. “In this case I suspect they’d find themselves in big trouble justifying their stance constitutionally.”

Byram and Lown, from Knysna, had first seen Dr. Igno Siebert, at Vincent Pallotti’s fertility unit about a month ago, Byram said, and after undergoing psychological testing, were happy to proceed.

“He was amazing, but he told us the hospital board just said no,” Byram said.

The couple said they were prepared to fight the issue on constitutional grounds.

“You can, as a single gay person, or as a gay couple, adopt a child,” Byram explained. “The only question is, of course, whether the applicants are suitable parents. But many gay couples have and do adopt children in South Africa.”

Siebert could not be contacted for comment, but Byram said they felt no animosity towards him and understood his position.

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