Back a few months ago there was some lengthy discussion here about the well-being of donor conceived children. Much of this was triggered by the release of a “report” (I’m putting that in quotes because to my mind it was more in the nature of an advocacy piece that the objective term “report” suggests) called “My Daddy’s Name Is Donor.” You can go read the earlier post to catch up with that.
I didn’t follow the discussion all that closely over the summer and so I missed this post in which Elizabeth Marquardt proposes what I think is a very curious suggestion for a compromise.
same sex marriage can and should be legal in jurisdictions that have put in place strong recognition of, and when possible protection for, the right of the child to know and be known by the mother and father who gave him life.
I’m trying to work out why I find this proposal so very puzzling. I suppose on one level it is because I don’t see that the two things connected up in the compromise are necessarily related. This makes it seem like a political trade-off (I’ll give you something you want if you give me something that I want) rather than a coherent proposal based on principle.
I have my doubts about the institution of marriage overall (imagine long feminist digression here) but at the same time, I fail to see the justification for denying same-sex couples access to that institution. I think we could generally agree that there is harm done in relegating a group of people to second-class citizenship, which is what barring access to a significant social institution does. State recogntion of domestic partnership, which to many seems a pallid imitation of marriage and is reserved primarily for same-sex couples, only compounds the original exclusion.
The question, then, is whether there is justification for the exclusion of same-sex couples. I understand that many see marriage as an institution that is central to our civilization. What I don’t see is that allowing same-sex couples to join in will undermine the institution of marriage. It does not seem to me that the mere fact that some same-sex couples will marry will cause different sex couples to reject marriage.
You’ll notice that this argument doesn’t have much of anything to do with children. Yet it is true children and the status of same-sex couples as parents has played a role in the ongoing debate. That’s because the parties on both sides of the debate seem to agree that it is better for children to have married parents. Just for the record, I have a ton of trouble with that proposition. (I’ve written about this before and I’m sure I’ll do so again in the future.) Still, it is something the opposing parties seem to agree on.
Marquardt’s compromise links the marriage issue to the question of the rights/recognition of a sperm provider. This, too, is something that has been discussed here at some length.
In truth I’m not entirely sure I understand what Marquardt is proposing. It’s one thing to say that the identity of the provider should be something the child can learn at some point in her/his life. It’s an entirely different thing to say that the provider should have parental rights.
My hunch is that the “strong recognition” language signals something akin to legal parentage. While I may be reading that wrong, it seems to me that at least Marquardt is proposing some sort of arrangement where the sperm provider has some legally defined role in the child’s life from the infancy of the child. Even if that role is less than full parenthood, it’s a long way from saying that the identity of the provider would be available to the child if the child wants it at some point as the child nears adulthood.
I won’t repeat my opposition to the sort of legal recognition proposed here. You can read about it in earlier posts if you like. What’s striking to me is the linkage of these two issues. I think the logic behind it is something like this: If advocates for same-sex couples will accept the primacy of biology as the determinant of parenthood, then marriage for same-sex couples somehow becomes more acceptable. Perhaps that is because in accepting the first point, same-sex couples will have essentially agreed that they will always be incomplete parents. It’s not a deal I’d take.
Finally, it’s striking to me that in offering this compromise Marquardt seems to contemplate something larger than a tw0-legal-parent family. She suggests both of the women could be legal parents and then there’s that legally recognized sperm donor. I do think it is worth recognizing that the move beyond the two-and-only-two parent model is both a large and interesting step in a different direction.