Mother/Father or Parent 1/Parent 2: The Struggle Over Terminology

This story tells of a recent struggle over the wording of a State Department form.  It’s the “Consular Report of Birth Abroad”–a form used by embassies to document births to expatriate Americans.  

Once the form had blanks for “father” and “mother.”  Sometime in December a new form was issued.   It had blanks for “parent 1” and “parent 2.”   This new gender neutral form made life a bit easier for lesbian or gay couples.    If you didn’t want to alter the form itself (and I’ve always thought it unwise to cross anything out on a government form) one of the women in a lesbian couple had to use the “father” blank and one of the men in a gay couple had to use the “mother” blank. 

While you might think that the parent 1/parent 2 version of the form would work fine for heterosexual couples, the change proved controversial.  The article says “conservative groups criticized it as an attack on traditional marriage and family values.”   I suppose the rationale here is that the gender neutral form tacitly acknowledged the existence of two mother and two father families and that  recognition of their existence amounts to taking sides.    In any event, there was controversy. 

The State Department, not wanting to begin the new Congressional session with this sort of an issue up-front, chose a middle course.   The form now says “mother or parent 1” and “father or parent 2.”    

Perhaps this version of the form might be unacceptable to fathers who wish to be parent 1 or mothers who wish to be parent 2?   Or maybe the compromise doesn’t satisfy the conservatives who objected to the recognition of gender neutral parents, since that option is still there.   If so, I guess the controversy will continue.  But even if it ends now, it’s a handy illustration of the general proposition that terminology matters.


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