Enter The Motherless Child

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.

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5 responses to “Enter The Motherless Child

  1. Julie I actually don’t interpret anything you write as saying that men or fathers are irrellevant or like a nice accessory or that women are better at taking care of children. I agree 100% with what you said about the ability of two men to raise a well adjusted child together.
    You won’t be surprised that I think its appaling the UK lets married heterosexual couples obtain a parental order that results in them being named on the birth certificate. I think that they should all have to adopt if they are not genetically connected. What a truley sensible law. Why are they going backwards?

  2. I agree that both two men and two women together can be great and devoted parents, the same with SMC, and many times they are even better parent than many other people, but what I mean is that even if the family is healthy the child is going to suffer some consequences that might affect him/her in the adult life. I read an article at http://www.fathermag.com/interviews/Single_Father_78.shtml that speaks about a single father raising his son, and when the 9 year old is asked about “moms” his answer is : moms do not understand anything…they have mostly stupid ideas” This is exactly what I mean. I have no doubt that the father is an excelent father and the child has female role models, but is pretty obvious that the child have a wrong concept about women which eventually will translate into “women are stupid” and unless the father takes some serious action to try to change the child’s vision of women, I bet the child will grow into the kind of man who denigrates and disrespects women.

    • It’s hard to generalize from one child’s experience. I’m sure we can find a regretable number of children raised by heterosexual couples who are taught that women are stupid. This wouldn’t make me discard the mother/father model, but it does illustrate the dangers of generalizing from small samples.

      To try and get a more reliable understanding of the question you raise, Judith Stacey and Tim Bibliarz analyzed a number of studies of children of same-sex couples some time ago. (As I recall, these were primarily studies of two mother families.) The piece they published was called “(How) Does The Sexual Orientation of Parents Matter.” For the most part they conclude it matters little. But in one area that may speak to your concern, they do find some difference: Children of same-sex couples have less rigid views about gender roles. If you think about that it seems fairly intuitive.

      I know their more recent work has focused on the gender of parents as well, but I haven’t had a chance to read it carefully. However, I don’t think suggests that the problem you identify is one typically found in motherless families.

  3. I agree that the gender of the parents is not the important issue but the value of the missing genetic connection.

  4. It depends on how we define discrimination…
    If the majority of people in a particular situation tend to be male, than ruling against persons in that situation could be considered discrimination. I’m not saying it always is, but it can get tricky.

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