Second Class Parents?
by Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse. Originally pubished at National Catholic Register, March 22,2010.
“Domestic partnerships make us second-class citizens. We want marriage, just like everyone else.”
This is the constant refrain of the marriage-redefinition advocates. Drawing a legal distinction, any legal distinction, between same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples is unfair and amounts to ill treatment of the same-sex couples. But does this argument really hold up?
I am reminded of a time in my life when I felt the law was treating me as a second-class citizen.
Back in the late 1980s, my husband and I were confronted with infertility. Powerful feelings of inadequacy and deprivation swept over us, threatening to sweep us away. The world, we felt, had dealt us a raw deal.
It was unfair. Why couldn’t we have a child? We were every bit as worthy as people who conceived naturally and easily. Why were we being cheated?
Going through the process of adoption only intensified the feeling of being less than everyone else. We had to undergo a criminal background check. We had to be “investigated” through a home study. We had to be fingerprinted. Biological parents don’t have to endure these indignities. We felt like second-class citizens.
But then, during one interminable day at the immigration office, it finally occurred to me that all these requirements — so unfair, onerous and offensive — actually weren’t about me at all. We had to jump through all these hoops for the benefit of children, and not just the particular child we would adopt.
We had to go through all these extra steps because it really is a big deal to bring a little boy halfway around the world to give him to someone other than his natural parents.
The legal requirements are in place to protect children who cannot protect themselves. The forms, the fingerprinting, the investigations: These minimal inconveniences really do nothing more than weed out the worst and most obvious of the bad actors among prospective parents. And complying with these rules conveys a tacit but unmistakable message: Giving a child to an unrelated adult is not something to take lightly.
That day in the immigration office, it finally dawned on me that adoption exists to give children the parents they need, not to give adults the children they want. Any benefits to adults are strictly incidental. The basic way children get parents is that they are born to them. Adoption handles the exceptional cases of children whose biological parents cannot take care of them — without undermining the general rule that biology determines parentage.
I resolved to let go of the self-pity as a first act of love for a child I hadn’t even seen yet.
What does this have to do with same-sex “marriage”? The plain fact of the matter is that same-sex couples cannot have children together. Any child born to one of them has another biological parent somewhere outside the couple. Parental rights have to be detached from that person. Parental rights have to be attached to the nonbiological parent within the same-sex couple. These are not insignificant steps. The legal system does not, and should not, automatically compress those steps into one by trying to treat same-sex couples the same way as opposite-sex couples.
Once we think about this from the child’s point of view, we can see that it actually makes more sense to have two different systems: biology for the ordinary case of natural parents and adoption for everyone else. Marriage supports the biological principle in the case of opposite-sex couples. The husband of the mother is presumed to be the father of the child because, more than 90% of the time, he is. But changing the “presumption of paternity” to a “presumption of parenthood” actively undermines the biological principle in the case of same-sex couples.
The “presumption of parenthood” separates the child from his or her natural parent in 100% of the cases of same-sex couples.
So, no, I don’t believe that domestic partnerships make same-sex couples into “second-class citizens.” The differences between marriage and the other legal arrangements are tracking substantial real differences, not mere prejudice.
Likewise, I don’t believe my husband and I are “second-class citizens” because we had to get fingerprinted before adopting our son. I learned to put up with this mild humiliation because I came to see that it serves a greater good: the good of keeping the biological principle intact even while allowing for exceptional situations.
Whatever security same-sex couples may claim for the children they raise can be obtained some other way than same-sex “marriage.” Redefining marriage to be the union of any two persons, instead of the union of a man and a woman, certainly undermines the general principle that biology determines parentage.
We should not allow ourselves to be misled in redefining marriage, “for the sake of the children.”