- The American Conservative - http://www.theamericanconservative.com -

If The Law Is a Teacher…

If the law is a teacher, both embodying and conveying particular moral stances, what would this proposed California law [1] teach us?:

Beaver had June and Ward.

Ricky had Ozzie and Harriet.

Mom and Dad, same-sex couples or blended families, California law is clear: No more than two legal parents per child.

When adults fight over parenthood, a judge must decide which two have that right and responsibility – but that could end soon.

State Sen. Mark Leno is pushing legislation to allow a child to have multiple parents.

“The bill brings California into the 21st century, recognizing that there are more than Ozzie and Harriet families today,” the San Francisco Democrat said.

Surrogate births, same-sex parenthood and assisted reproduction are changing society by creating new possibilities for nontraditional households and relationships.

Where did this idea come from? Says the story:

SB 1476 stemmed from an appellate court case last year involving a child’s biological mother, her same-sex partner, and a man who had an affair with the biological mother and impregnated her while she was separated temporarily from her female lover.

This is an attempt to accommodate the radical irregularities in modern childbearing practices (surrogacy, etc.). What would this law teach us? That there is no such thing as the natural family — that family is whatever we say it is. Or, as Barbara Bush witlessly put it [2] to the GOP Convention in 1992, “However you define family, that’s what we mean by family values.” As the reader who e-mailed this story to me says:

The ultimate goal is to redefine the family in line with what Carle C. Zimmerman would have seen as the ultimate in atomistic families: a collection of unrelated people, adults and children, who just happen to live together and forge a voluntary relationship with each other for an unspecified length of time.

Picture the poor California child being shuttled from birth father/stepmother to birth mother/stepfather to previous stepmother from her birth father’s earlier marriage to her long-time stepfather’s parents (her stepgrandparents), all of whom have won the legal right to be considered her parents…

 

30 Comments (Open | Close)

30 Comments To "If The Law Is a Teacher…"

#1 Comment By SusanKG On July 3, 2012 @ 4:25 pm

I am a family law practitioner. I agree with same-sex marriage. But this law would be an unmitigated disaster. A child can only be expected to have a parental bond with two people. Further, it is challenging enough to navigate parenting disputes when two parents are in conflict. It would be an absolute nightmare to have three parents navigating contested custody matters. I am sure the Washington Family Law Bar would not be supportive of this.

#2 Comment By Mont D. Law On July 3, 2012 @ 4:36 pm

I agree there could be unintended consequences and that care needs to be taken, but what does this have to do with teh evil gay?

If it was everyone in the situation was hetrosexual how would the proposed law be different? The article pointed out several instances where no gay people were involved. If the goal of these laws is the best interests of the child can you envision no circumstances where having 3 parents would be beneficial for the child? I can see that. Whether you need to declare 3 parents or not is open for debate but these situations are going to keep coming up and the law should recognize them in some fashion if not this one.

#3 Comment By Vast Variety On July 3, 2012 @ 4:39 pm

As a gay man and a supporter of marriage equality and gay adoption… this law unnerves me.

#4 Comment By Lord Karth On July 3, 2012 @ 4:49 pm

I am also a family law practitioner, and I believe that this law would do incalculable harm to the child(ren) affected by it.

It’s like the old joke about a five-legged dog; calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg. This is a flat-out attempt to re-name a “tail” as a “leg”.

Whether we like it, whether we don’t, a Human child has two and only two biological parents: a “mother” and a “father”. Modern custody law, at least in NY province, may recognize different parties (e.g. grandparents, aunts, uncles) as custodians and give them standing to sue, but a child still only has two parents.

It is quite possible, under existing law, to have more than two parties contend for custody of a given child. I’ve personally been involved in cases where five people have been involved as potential custodians, not counting Departments of Social Services, and those cases generally get quite weird. But basic biology and genetics still have to—and should—be taken into account here. It sounds like this California proposal is designed to remove that particular bit of accountancy.

But, Susan-colleague, do not presume to assume that Washington province would necessarily oppose such a bill. It has been my experience—and I have seen/heard/participated in much in my 23 years of practice—that provincial Bar Associations are often on the leading edge of such tomfoolery. It’s “progressive” and promotes “equality”.

The technical terms you’re looking for, with regards to this proposal, are “idiotic”, “not in touch with basic Reality”, and “flatly ridiculous.” Which will almost certainly NOT stop California from introducing and enacting this piece of foolishness.

Your servant,

Lord Karth

#5 Comment By Vast Variety On July 3, 2012 @ 4:55 pm

I think a better way to address these issues would be create a realtively simple and legal way for parents to at least temporarly transfer custody to another person.

#6 Comment By JonF On July 3, 2012 @ 4:59 pm

Re: A child can only be expected to have a parental bond with two people.

Why? I mean seriously. Children presumably have some sort of bond with their grandparents, when they are around. Does that violate the “only two” rule? And is this “two at a time”? I know I sure bonded with my step-mother (my real mother having died).
I am not defending this malarky– I agree with your point that, legally, this is Pandora’s box and should not be opened. But I think the problem are mainly legal/practical, not emotional. Or rather, the emotional issues exist quite independent of any legal recognition of unconventional family situations.

#7 Comment By Polichinello On July 3, 2012 @ 5:03 pm

I agree there could be unintended consequences and that care needs to be taken, but what does this have to do with teh evil gay?

Because, as the story points out, the bill is motivated by all the artificial arrangements and workarounds that come with “gay marriage”.

This is what a slippery slope looks like, and we really don’t know where the bottom will wind up.

Putting that aside, can you imagine the joy of not only worrying about dealing with your ex after a divorce, but having to worry about their later exes?

On the bright side, I suppose California can look forward to seeing more Morman fundamentalists moving in, sister wives and all.

#8 Comment By Oengus On July 3, 2012 @ 5:07 pm

Polichinello: “This is what a slippery slope looks like, and we really don’t know where the bottom will wind up.”

Once the light is rejected, the darkness has no bottom.

#9 Comment By Chris Jones On July 3, 2012 @ 5:09 pm

what does this have to do with teh evil gay?

First of all, “teh evil gay” has nothing to do with anything. We don’t favour holding fast to marriage as traditionally defined because “gays are evil.” Gays are not evil.

What I think you are really asking is what this has to do with same-sex marriage (even though Rod did not so much as mention same-sex marriage in his post). What it has to do with same-sex marriage is that the proposed law is, like same-sex marriage, an instance of treating the family as a matter of human invention, rather than a given characteristic of human nature.

By the way, what is up with the phrase “teh gay”? I’ve seen this misspelling of the definite article many times on the Internet, but I have no clue what message (if any) is being sent by it.

#10 Comment By David J. White On July 3, 2012 @ 5:24 pm

Of course, for scheming children, this could be great: in a crowd of legally-recognized “parents”, there will inevitably be one lackadaisical adult who will always be willing to sign the permission slip. 😉

I mean, if a child needs to bring a signed permission slip from home, it needs only be signed by one legally-recognized parent or guardian, right?

***

It would be an absolute nightmare to have three parents navigating contested custody matters. I am sure the Washington Family Law Bar would not be supportive of this.

And yet if something is recognized as a “right”, the fact that it would be be “an absolute nightmare” for the legal system doesn’t really matter, does it?

If making things easier for the Family Law Bar were the main concern, we would outlaw divorce except in extreme circumstnaces.

***

And, SusanKG, since you are supportive of gay marriage, you need to accept the (presumably) unintended consequences. The whole idea of “two” parents comes from the fact that there are *two* biologically complementary sexes. If the legal “parents” no longer need to be of opposite sexes, then by what logic must they any longer be limited to two?

#11 Comment By Nate On July 3, 2012 @ 5:27 pm

This law seems entirely logical.

Considering, that is, that gay marriage is a reductio.

Alright logic students: what follows from an absurdity?
Answer: anything.

Marriage is now an arbitrary arrangement . Why should not parental arrangements also be arbitrary?

At the risk of sounding snotty, I really don’t see what all the fuss is about. No one should be surprised by this.

But more importantly, no one who supports gay marriage should complain.

#12 Comment By thomas tucker On July 3, 2012 @ 5:35 pm

Next up: the redefinition of human.

#13 Comment By The Sicilian Woman On July 3, 2012 @ 5:45 pm

SusanKG and all those who support same-sex “marriage”: This is all part of the package of your defining a family as whatever you want a family to be, same just like whatever you want to call a marriage, is a marriage. Congratulations. You’ve got what you wanted. And there’s more to come. Enjoy.

What’s that saying? “In a world where anything goes, everything will.”

Do not EVER say, “”X'” will never happen. Because it will. What a mess.

#14 Comment By J the second On July 3, 2012 @ 5:46 pm

I’ll admit, the unquestioningly assumed superior good of “the natural family” doesn’t seem to me obvious or evident. The situations the law applies to appear in usual cases of divorce and remarriage.

What does seem to be exposed by the law is the psychological parasitism of adults on children, which is pretty much an unquestioned entitlement in ‘the natural family’.

#15 Comment By Mont D. Law On July 3, 2012 @ 5:46 pm

(What it has to do with same-sex marriage is that the proposed law is, like same-sex marriage, an instance of treating the family as a matter of human invention, rather than a given characteristic of human nature.)

Some sort of family maybe part of human nature but iin reality all family law is a matter of human intervention. If a couple is married, all children the wife bears are by law the husbands. If everyone agrees a bio parent can give up parental rights to a step parent. If both parents are unfit the state can take away their children.. State intervention in families, particularly families the state defines as broken is pretty standard stuff. How is any of that a given characteristic of human nature?

I also think this kind of law must be carefully thought out, but like it or not these kinds of situation is going to come up and the best interests of any given child may be harmed if judges don’t have some leeway in this direction.

#16 Comment By Sam M On July 3, 2012 @ 5:57 pm

“That there is no such thing as the natural family”

This law is ridiculous. But isn’t the above statement kind of… true? It’s not necessarily an absolute truth, and not historically consistent, that all people grow up with their biological mother and father under one roof with a set of common siblings. Don’t some cultures send the kids off to live with the women while men live in other dwellings?

Culture and economics have led us to that, and for the good, I think. But Ward and June are cultural inventions. Am I wrong about this?

#17 Comment By Polichinello On July 3, 2012 @ 6:32 pm

Culture and economics have led us to that, and for the good, I think. But Ward and June are cultural inventions. Am I wrong about this?

Well, Ward and June go back for a couple of thousand of years, at least. Sure, maybe there’s a chance in our infinite modern wisdom we can devise a better method (it’s worked for so many other recent cultural innovations!), but do you want to be one of the guinea pigs in this little trial and error process?

#18 Comment By Jamie O’Neill On July 3, 2012 @ 6:54 pm

Whenever on this blog I read the words “the ultimate goal is” I clutch my red cardigan to my breasts and exclaim “sacre rouge, sacre rouge!” Could it be I am alone in this?

#19 Comment By Sam M On July 3, 2012 @ 6:58 pm

You hardly have to go back 100 years to find other ways of arranging families. Go to utah. Or to any number of tribes in any number of nations.

As mentioned, many of these tribes have women living in their own houses with the children, and men living in communal houses. These are people. They are alive today. Which would seem to argue that our way of arranging things isn’t necessarily “natural.” Rather, as stated, it’s an invention. It’s a great invention! Like the wheel. But it’s no more elemental than a sandwich, if history and anthropology are any guide.

That’s not to say we can or should give those arrangements the same legal and cultural privilege that we give to the modern, Western nuclear family.

Let’s say we have a Lord of the Flies situation and a group of 100 boys and 100 girls get stranded on an island.

I’d be surprised if 50 sets of Wards and Junes emerged 20 years later.

#20 Comment By Dave Dutcher On July 3, 2012 @ 7:27 pm

I agree with Mont. We’ve created a new thing, triad parenthood. This is something done both straight and gay, through divorce or surrogacy. It doesn’t surprise me that people are starting to link about formal laws for them.

Two biological, one spiritual. I don’t want to use the term step-parent because surrogacy makes that moot. But divorce and now surrogacy have created a world where children often have three living parents, and we’re kind of muddling through this. Laws like this I worry are a reflection of a stronger attempt to formalize a new reality.

#21 Comment By Mitchell Young On July 3, 2012 @ 7:59 pm

“I am a family law practitioner. I agree with same-sex marriage. But this law would be an unmitigated disaster. ”

But this follows from ‘gay’ “marriage” as night follows day.

“The article pointed out several instances where no gay people were involved.”

But the law is being proposed by the homosexual and homosexualist Mark Leno, of San Francisco, and the case prompting it involves a ‘homosexual’ couple (guess one likes a little “schwing” on the side, eh?) All of this is not coincidence. Break the biological connection, and in addition at least the model of biological connection, and this is what you get.

#22 Comment By rr On July 3, 2012 @ 8:16 pm

quote: “Let’s say we have a Lord of the Flies situation and a group of 100 boys and 100 girls get stranded on an island.

I’d be surprised if 50 sets of Wards and Junes emerged 20 years later.”

No, but these sets would at least produce children. That’s essential to the survival of the human species and something that sets of same-sex couples (say only gay men or only lesbians) could under no circumstances do if likewise abandoned on an island.

The basic facts of biology are that you need a man and a woman to produce a child. A society that severs the natural, biological/reproductive links embedded in marriage (we’ve done that) and now in the legal status of parenthood (it looks like we’re on the way to doing that) does so at its peril. Of course, given the crazy ideas about sex and marriage that has infect much of our society, this probably won’t stop people from trying.

#23 Comment By JonF On July 3, 2012 @ 9:09 pm

Re: Because, as the story points out, the bill is motivated by all the artificial arrangements and workarounds that come with “gay marriage”.

Seems to me that plain old vanilla divorce and remarriage (not to mention surrogacy) is a far more fertile source for tying this Gordion Knot than gay marriage.

#24 Comment By David J. White On July 3, 2012 @ 11:09 pm

Let’s say we have a Lord of the Flies situation and a group of 100 boys and 100 girls get stranded on an island.

I’d be surprised if 50 sets of Wards and Junes emerged 20 years later.

Um, I thought the whole point of Lord of the Flies was that this is bad: state of nature, bad; civilization, good. Yes, I understand that the point of the book is that civilization can be fragile veneer. Well, so is cleanliness, which why we have to bathe often. Its fragility doesn’t undermine its benefits or its importance.

Ward and June are cultural inventions

So are cities. So is written language. So are the fine arts. So are universities and libraries. I think I’d like to keep them.

#25 Comment By Vast Variety On July 3, 2012 @ 11:25 pm

@The Sicilian Woman

This mess as you call it would have occurred with out the advent of marriage equality. It occurs due to the changes in the technology in finding ways around infertility and other reproductive health issues.

#26 Comment By TWylite On July 4, 2012 @ 12:01 am

Ozzie and Harriet and Ted and Alice. Consider the possibilities.

#27 Comment By Dave Dutcher On July 4, 2012 @ 12:36 am

Let’s say we have a Lord of the Flies situation and a group of 100 boys and 100 girls get stranded on an island.

I’d be surprised if 50 sets of Wards and Junes emerged 20 years later.

You shouldn’t be. Well, maybe 25 wards and 25 junes, but monogamy will soon be vital for them to keep from killing each other off. Polygamy is a vice of the rich, and only maintainable so long as they can keep the competing males down. It’s not culturally sustainable because of that, and it’s notable that we don’t see any industrial or even modernish agrarian society that works on such even at a commune scale.

#28 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On July 4, 2012 @ 11:25 am

As a political libertarian who cares more about the best interests of the child, and less about the self-esteem of the adults involved, I would look for a fact-based but religiously neutral approach like this:

Children are created by the union of male and female. That is a biological fact, pre-dating the U.S. Constitution, and presumably known to the Framers of the original document and all amendments.

Thus, the liberty to raise the child falls first to the man and woman who created the child. Resort to conception by turkey baster only affirms what I just said, it does not create an exception to the rule. The fact that such methods are necessary, in order to conceive without intercourse, and that a male donor is needed, simply prove the rule.

It is in the best interest of the child and the entire community if the man and woman who conceive the child have entered into a legally binding commitment to maintain a stable home for at least as long as the child is short of full adulthood. The law therefore favors this status, without binding individuals irrevocably to abusive or other unsustainable unions.

When that preferred framework does not exist, or breaks down, if the mother is not shown to be unfit, she should have custody, shared with the father if known, and if he desires, and if he is not shown to be unfit.

A man who conceives a child who is not fully present to help raise the child will be assessed costs to compensate for his absence. That should really go into a trust account for the child, from which money can be allocated to the mother or foster parent for expenses pertaining to the child, not simply handed over to the custodian.

If mommy does not want a baby delivered by live birth, then daddy gets first option to take full responsibility, and yes, mommy pays into a trust account for the child.

If a man or woman conceives, who is in or later enters into a gay partnership, they may choose to share responsibilities that are legally theirs with a partner in their household, but that’s the parent’s option.

Family has an objective biological basis. This is not trumped by California Dreaming. Any other living arrangement or shared commitment is a commune, a tribe, a clan, a multi-family living arrangement, but it is not a family.

#29 Comment By Andrea On July 4, 2012 @ 2:54 pm

If it gives judges a bit more flexibility, I guess I don’t have a particular issue with it. Some of these kids actually do have three or more involved, active parents and they really ought to be allowed to keep seeing them and loving them when the parents decide they hate each other.

Some of the situations I’ve heard about are pretty wild. The laws are going to have to catch up.

#30 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On July 4, 2012 @ 10:39 pm

Anyone who has read Nikki Grimes novels would know that there are times when a child should be able to speak in open court as to what parent they want to be awarded to, and judges should give due weight to that. This is not so parents will offer favors to win the child’s vote… but so that, e.g., a biological parent who has been absent from the child’s entire life, but sees a chance to get their hands on some life insurance proceeds, does not have precedence over a divorced step-father who has been closely involved in the child’s life. Be careful about the best interests of the child, but not the preoccupations of an aggrieved parent.