There’s an ongoing discussion here about putative father registries–you can see it in the last two post and the extensive comments. There’s one point that was raised (I’m sorry that right at the moment I cannot give proper credit to the person who raised it–my internet access is a little too clunky) that I wanted to pull out for a post as I think it warrants fuller discussion.
[I’m writing this after drafting this post. I now realize this is going to take more than one post. In this post I will set up the problem (subject of course to your objections that I’m not being fair, etc.) and in the next I’ll get to the sex registry part.]
Let me start with a description of what we’re talking about. I’m actually going to begin by reminding you all what the problem is that lead to the putative father registries. This is partly because for all the discussion of the comments and for all the objections (many of them good ones) being raised, I don’t see much attention being paid to the actual underlying problem. Surely if you really want to get rid of the registries you either need to 1) address the problem in some other way and/or 2) say we just need to live with the problem and/or 3) deny that there is a problem at all.
So here is the problem. Sometimes unmarried men and women engage in sexual intercourse and unplanned pregnancy results. And sometimes the woman decides she wants to carry the child to term but doesn’t want to raise the child. Instead, she wants to place it for adoption.
If the man who is genetically related to the child is around and engaged in the whole process, then I think most of us will agree that he gets a chance to assert his own desire to raise the child before the adoption can be completed. (Even I will agree to this, at least for the moment, and I’m the one whose most hardcore on this point.)
But sometimes the man is not around. He is just gone. So can the adoption proceed without his participation?
If the answer is “no,” then what becomes of the child? The genetic mother doesn’t want to raise it. The genetic father isn’t around to raise it. And the adoption cannot go forward, so while the child can probably live with the adoptive parents, there’s no permanence to that relationship. And many people (trained people, I mean) will tell you that the fact of impermanence is itself a problem for the child. In other words, it is the child here who will pay the cost of this policy choice. And for what (and whose?) benefit? It’s unclear to me. Is it the benefit of the man who didn’t stick around?
Anyway, we (as a society) don’t want to say “no” to that question–for the reasons I’ve just outlined. (You are, of course, free to disagree with the judgment made.) We want the adoption to be able to go forward. But this raises a new concern: Think only about those cases in which the genetic father isn’t around. Now in some of those cases (and I’d venture to say the majority, but this is a side point) it’s because he didn’t care enough about the possibility that there was a child to stick around and figure that there was one or because he knew there was a child and didn’t care. I won’t worry too much about those cases. (You are free to tell me I should worry about those cases, of course, but be sure to explain to me why.)
However, in some cases he isn’t around because the genetic mother has frustrated his efforts to be involved. She might have moved to a different place, she might have cut off sources of information. It doesn’t really matter but the bottom line is that he wanted to be involved and has been frozen out. Maybe we should care about this guy? At the very least, it seems to me that many of my readers ought to care about him. And even I care a good deal more about him than I care about the guy who chose not to be around.
I know this has been a very long explanation but we have reached our goal. This is the problem that the registries are meant to address: the guys who want to be involved and are frozen out. The idea of registration is that it gives them a way to let us know they is interested that is entirely outside of the woman’s control. And once they register, then we can easily give them a say in the event of an adoption–the potential adoptive parents just go to the registry and if there is a name there, then the man named has to get notice, etc.
Now, I know the question I proposed to address in this post is whether these registries amount to sex registries and I haven’t gotten to that yet. It will have to be next time.
It does seem to me clear that a putative father registry necessarily contains information about who had sex with who and when they did so. Is it reasonable for the government to collect this kind of information? I think that might depend on what the government is using it for, and that’s why I’ve gone on at length about what the purpose of the registries is. As with so many other things, there are doubtless costs and benefits to the registries and the question is which way the balance tips. More on that next time.