I wanted to go back to the Utah case I wrote about recently as I just barely scratched the surface in that first post. I did, however, lay out the facts at some length and I won’t repeat them here. If you need a refresher, go read the first post or the opinion itself (which is pretty long.)
I’ll start with an overview of Utah law: Utah makes it easy for unmarried women to give up children for adoption. Among other things, this means that if a man asserting that he is the father of the child does not act very quickly, he will have no rights whatsoever. Perhaps most shockingly, fraud on the part of the mother–by which I mean lying and deceit–does not provide the biological father with a basis for attacking the adoption.
This all might seem fairly appalling, but if you read the dissenting opinion in the case and the statutory statement of intent, you will find the rationale for this arrangement. Remember that this system was enacted by the Utah legislature. It’s perfectly proper for the legislature to enact laws based on value judgments.
In this instance, the legislature considered several values to be of the greatest importance. The main purpose of the legislation is to encourage adoption, favor adoptive parents, and ensure stability. (This is at page 41, which is in the dissenting opinion.) The unmarried mother has a right to privacy in making her adoption decision and has no obligation to disclose the identity of the father to anyone. By contrast the unmarried father is distinctly disadvantaged. The legislature specifically concluded that:
“the interests of the state, the mother, the child, and the adoptive parents . . . outweigh the interest of an unmarried biological father who does not timely grasp the opportunity to establish [a relationship with the child]”
Now as I said, in general legislatures get to do this sort of thing–decide which things are most important and which things are less important. The constraints and the authority of the legislature are US Constitution and the Utah Constitution. I know nothing about the protections guaranteed in the Utah Constitution, but I do know a bit about the federal constitution, and it doesn’t offer a great deal of protection for unmarried fathers. There may be some questions raised here, but for the moment, I’m going to assume that the Utah legislative scheme complies with the US Constitution.
It might also be good to remember that Utah does not allow unmarried couples to adopt. And it favors adoption by married couples (as opposed to by single people) and only different sex couples can get married. Utah also disfavors adoption by single individuals who are unmarried. (That’s in the legislative intent section I linked to.)
So now consider the general picture from Utah’s point of view. Suppose you have an unmarried couple and the woman gets pregnant. This is not a good situation for the potential child. If the couple gets married everything is swell and, of course, the previously unmarried father will now have rights. If they don’t get married, Utah would prefer that the mother put the child up for adoption so that it can be raised in a good and stable married household. In Utah’s view this would be much better for the child than having the unmarried father raise the child alone–which is where you’d be if the mother wanted to give the child up and we gave the father the right to object.
From this perspective, it makes sense that Utah gives him very little chance to object. Only a few really determined (and pretty savvy) men will be able to claim any rights here. And that will serve Utah’s purposes well, because most children born to unmarried women will end up in nice married households.
I’m sure some of you are just ready to scream, but take a deep breath and try to walk through the logic. IF you grant the Utah legislature the right to decide which things are most important and if you look at the ones it chose THEN this might all make sense. Your disagreement is probably rooted in the fact that you would make different choices about what is important. You’re entitled to have different values, of course, but it’s the Utah legislature that is entitled to make these choices–unless they violate the Constitution, a question you’ll remember I set aside.
What the dissent says is going on in the case (and they could be right) is that the majority cannot stand the result in this particular case (which the dissent agrees is unpalatable) so the majority twists the law around to get a different result. To me this looks like a classic instance where the court’s necessary focus on specific cases gives it a very different perspective from that of the legislature, which is dealing with general cases.
This is now long enough so I will close here. I do, however, want to note that some of you ought to be challenging me about this case. After all, one of the strongest claims that Manzanares has–probably the strongest–is the one rooted in genetic linkage, which I don’t accept. I ought to figure out what I think about that, no?