Recently I wrote a post about the creation of fatherless families. In the lively debate in the comments to that post, I’ve frequently been accused of discriminating against men. I don’t think that’s a fair accusation (as is discussed in those comments) but I’ll now take a turn at discussing motherless families. If folks think that this discriminates against women, perhaps at least I can claim to discriminate equally against both men and women.
According the The Guardian, a new law in Britain will ease the path of gay men seeking to create motherless families via surrogacy. (While gay male couples may become parents via adoption, some also choose to go the surrogacy route. Note that surrogacy is not particularly important to lesbian couples seeking to become parents.)
Up until now, married heterosexual couples using surrogacy in the UK have had simple access to a device that makes them legal parents of the child born as a result of surrogacy: They could obtain a parental order that results in them being named on the birth certificate.
This procedure has not been available to either gay male couples or unmarried heterosexual couples. These couples had to pursue adoption following the birth of a child to a surrogate. Adoption is more expensive and requires a more substantial intrusion into the affairs of the couple seeking parenthood.
The Guardian article summarizes the difference in the procedure soon to be made available:
The new system is far more streamlined. Provided that a court is satisfied that two men are in a stable relationship; that no fees, other than expenses, are paid to the surrogate mother; and that it is in the child’s best interest, then it will award a parental order for a birth certificate to be drawn up with both men named as parents, and therefore legal guardians.
Now I realize that putting names on the birth certificate is a complicated topic about which there has been much disagreement here. It’s worth noting that if the contracting couple’s names don’t go on the certificate, then the name of the woman who gave birth and, if she is married, her husband, do go there. That, too, might be problematic to folks. But for the moment, I’d simply like to cross-reference this point to some earlier discussions. (You can use the “birth certificate” tag in addition to that link.) If it seems worth coming back to in a later discussion I’ll do that.
Then, too, surrogacy is a complicated topic. It, too, has been a subject of discussion on this blog. (Again, try the tags for “surrogacy” on its own or with various modifiers.) I’d like to set aside these issues for the moment as well.
I just want to focus for a moment on the families that will be created by this new streamlined process. Gay male couples will be creating two-father motherless families.
In general, this does not seem problematic to me. I don’t see anything wrong with motherless families, per se. I’m quite confident that two men, or even one man, can do a perfectly fine job of raising a child.
Two-father families only arise after a great deal of thought and effort on the part of the men involved. These are men who clearly choose to be parents and do so without much social support (or pressure) for this choice. Their commitment to the task is therefore apparent.
I do want to be clear that I am speaking in general terms. Of course there are specific families where the absence of a mother (or a father) might be very unfortunate. In the same way there are particular men and particular women (and particular couples of all configurations) who turn out to be poor parents. The fact that in one family the absence of a parent (mother or father) is problematic doesn’t establish that all one-parent families are bound to fail.
So I think you could say I do not think mothers are necessary, just as I do not think fathers are necessary. I do, however, think parents are necessary. I just don’t think they have to come in particular combinations of sexes.