Second Class Parents?

“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.”

[This article was originally published at National Catholic under the title, “Conferral of Parenthood does not a Second Class Parent Make.” It is used by permission of the author.]

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  • Claire

    Excellent article!

  • SeanReynoldsNZ

    Great article Dr Morse!

    However, one point that that does not pick up on is that most “married” couples have turned the institution of marriage into a joke. This does not mean that marriage should be done away with, but rather that people should be urged to enter into the life-giving love-giving institution that is marriage in total honesty. Contraception destroys marriage by attacking the life-giving aspect of it, divorcing it from the marital embrace that then becomes an instance of using another person for pleasure which is the opposite of love, destroying the love-giving aspect of marriage. You cannot divorce life from love.

    The most significant part of marriage is that the embrace of the husband and wife brings a new person into existence. The two literally become one flesh. And it is ordered to this and bringing new people into the world. In all honesty, so what if two people want to spend the rest of their life together and buy a house together: What real significance is that which society should concern itself with? That approach contributes NOTHING to the continuation of society.

    Lets face it: there are two approaches to sexuality here. The Church sees marriage as the place where human sexual love can flourish and where the spouses make a gift of themselves to each other, and through each other to God and the world, bringing new people into existence who are literally the two spouses in one flesh. The other approach reduces human sexuality to the level of pleasure, where the other person becomes an object to gve you pleasure, and to be discarded when the “spark” is gone. That approach is really just a worthless sham.

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  • Narwen

    Doesn’t this make the argument against same-sex ‘marriage’ a bit too dependent on the state of current technology ? If two women are able to have a child with no male involvement, even on the cellular level, are they suddenly ‘marriage material’ ? (Biotech isn’t there yet, but it is being worked upon already.)

  • fishman

    interesting, but three is also, not good case for the existence of domestic partnerships, which are basically a state sponsored way of condoning mortal sin.
    Still, the article does a good job of making some distinctions that can then be used to explain why all relationships that are (sexual and same sex) in nature are intrinsically wrong.