The National Catholic Review

The U.S. Supreme Court is now considering the issue of same-sex marriage. Like many people, I have been following whatever news and commentary I can find. One thing has struck me by its total absence: While there is much discussion about the civil (and human) rights of adults, there has been no discussion at all concerning the rights of future children who may be born or adopted into new forms of legally sanctioned family structure.

Let me be clear and emphatic: I agree 110 percent that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transsexual people need to be protected from what is legally termed “invidious discrimination," particularly in reference to the work place, public places, housing, education and health care. All of us should have equal civil and human rights in those areas. If matrimony is a civil right and/or a human right, then LGBT persons should have a right to civil marriage. 

However, there are two other closely related questions about "rights" just barely below the surface when marriage is given a new definition: 1) Do all persons have a civil right and/or a human right to have a child? And 2) do all children have a right to be born via a pairing of biological parents, female and male, and to be raised by them, unless a grievous circumstance arises that prevents it? These are two very tough questions—tougher than they may appear at first glance.

We in the Unuted States believe, as per our Declaration of Independence, that there are “certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” We further believe that this “pursuit of happiness” may be pursued only to the extent that the pursuit does not infringe on the rights of others and we have many laws reflecting this. Herein lies the conflict between the above two tough questions. If the child has an inalienable human right to be born via a pairing of biological female/male parents, then how can all persons (singly or in pairs, heterosexual or homosexual) have a right to pursue their happiness in a manner that deprives a child of her/his rights?

The above question is not merely academic and it is not merely a question that applies to same-sex marriage—not at all. We already have the technological capacity, and have had for some time now, via “assisted reproductive technology” (ART) to create children via anonymous sperm and/or egg donation who are deprived of access to their biological mothers and fathers—some children are already being born in surrogate wombs, belonging to women who have no biological relationship to the children they carry and soon artificial wombs (ectogenesis) will be available. As the father of two adopted children, my now adult children and I can tell you that this deprivation is a very serious thing. Being denied access to your biological parents is a tough road to travel, a human right has been taken away.

The “law of unintended consequences” enters into the picture when marriage is up for redefinition. Along our journey together in the commendable pursuit of protecting LGBT citizens from invidious discrimination, no one intended that we should create a situation whereby the rights of children would be thrown aside. No one involved, on whatever side of the debate, has been motivated by trying to figure out a way to deprive children of their human rights. This thorny issue has slipped into the room when nobody was looking. 

In fact, ART has already been throwing these children’s rights aside for some time. Another “unintended consequence” of the same-sex marriage debate is that it may well cause us as a society to take a long overdue look at the morality of the myriad forms of assisted reproductive technologies now at our disposal. We are playing with lives and rights here: not only pertaining to the adults involved, but more importantly pertaining to the children involved.

The debate over same-sex marriage, if we are paying attention (and we need to), should cause all of us to think more carefully about the rights of children. It should also cause us to think more carefully about the consequences (intended and unintended) of divorcing marriage from issues of human reproduction. Sure, as they say, “A lot of people get married and never have kids,” but it is perhaps more to the point to say, “A lot of people get married and have kids.”

The question is not whether or not LGBT persons can “be good parents.” Some will be good and some will be bad. People are people. And, hey, there are plenty of heterosexual persons who are really bad parents—I may be one myself. The real issue is not about the parents. The real issue is about the child’s right to be born via a biological mother and father and to have access to those biological parents—this issue pertains regardless of the parents’ sexual preferences and gender identities.

Let us all hope that the Supreme Court realizes how complicated these questions are.

John Nassivera is a Life Fellow of Columbia University’s Society of Fellows in the Humanities and the author of God.org: Why Religion Really Matters. He lives in Vermont.

Comments

JIM MCCREA | 5/13/2013 - 5:20pm

http://www.livescience.com/17913-advantages-gay-parents.html

Why Gay Parents May Be the Best Parents

Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience Senior Writer
Date: 15 January 2012

(snip)

Catholic opposition aside, research suggests that gay and lesbian parents are actually a powerful resource for kids in need of adoption. According to a 2007 report by the Williams Institute and the Urban Institute, 65,000 kids were living with adoptive gay parents between 2000 and 2002, with another 14,000 in foster homes headed by gays and lesbians. (There are currently more than 100,000 kids in foster care in the U.S.)

An October 2011 report by Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute found that, of gay and lesbian adoptions at more than 300 agencies, 10 percent of the kids placed were older than 6 — typically a very difficult age to adopt out. About 25 percent were older than 3. Sixty percent of gay and lesbian couples adopted across races, which is important given that minority children in the foster system tend to linger. More than half of the kids adopted by gays and lesbians had special needs.

In addition, Brodzinsky said, there's evidence to suggest that gays and lesbians are especially accepting of open adoptions, where the child retains some contact with his or her birth parents. And the statistics bear out that birth parents often have no problem with their kids being raised by same-sex couples, he added.

In a 2010 review of virtually every study on gay parenting, New York University sociologist Judith Stacey and University of Southern California sociologist Tim Biblarz found no differences between children raised in homes with two heterosexual parents and children raised with lesbian parents.

"There's no doubt whatsoever from the research that children with two lesbian parents are growing up to be just as well-adjusted and successful" as children with a male and a female parent," Stacey told LiveScience.

Michael Barberi | 5/10/2013 - 8:58pm

The author said: "do all children have a right to be born via a pairing of biological parents, female and male, and to be raised by them, unless a grievous circumstance arises that prevents it?"

Well, we live in the real world and there are, unfortunately, grievous circumstances that arise that prevent children to be born via a pairing of biological, female and male, and be raised by them.

Consider two issues:

1. There are thousands of frozen embryos, children frozen and want to be born, as a result of ATR technologies. It is heroic virtue and the best of Christian charity for a couple, heterosexual or Lesbian, to choose to adopt such children and give them a real life in this world. Yet, the Catholic Church seems to be against such adoptions by same-sex or heterosexual couples. Perplexingly, they have no problem with heterosexual couples adopting a child born of different parents under traditional adoption policies. In the former case, there is both gestational and social parenting (not genetic parenting). In the later case, there is neither genetic or gestational parenting, but only social parenting.

2. There are thousands of Catholic orphaned children who cannot be placed into a heterosexual Catholic family. Many of them live to adulthood and have difficulty in life because they lack the love of a family. LGBT couples who want to welcome such children into their lives and homes with unconditional love should have the right to do so. These children must also have the right of having the opportunity being adopted by these loving parents. Yet, the Catholic Church works to prevent this from happening because of the fear that this will destroy heterosexual marriage as we know it and the lives of these children. Unfortunately, they ignore the overwhelming social scientific evidence that demonstrate (at least to date) that children of same-sex parents do equally well compared to the children adopted by heterosexual parents. Finally, there is no understandable justification and widely accepted evidence offered by the Church for claiming that same-sex marriage will destroy heterosexual marriage.

JIM MCCREA | 5/10/2013 - 8:30pm

Any fool can ... and many do .... breed.

What is critical to all children is to be raised in homes where they are loved, cherished, nurtured and raised in a familial environment. This can ... and does ... happen in single parent, male-female parent, female-female parent and male-male parent familiy.

Parent: a: one that begets or brings forth offspring ; b: a person who brings up and cares for another.

Marie Rehbein | 5/10/2013 - 3:14pm

I am not sure if the philosophers, lawyers, and even theologians among us agree that a child has a right to be born. I think we all understand that if a child has made it to the point that it survives birth, it has a right to be here, but that is not the same thing.

There is, however, a more important point in this article about whether people have a right to know who their biological parents are. I think they do. I think that up to this point, record keeping has been precise enough to make it possible for most people to be confident of who their biological parents are, but that may not be the case. It might be wise to make laws that trace people's ancestry so that they don't end up procreating with their siblings.

Vince Killoran | 5/10/2013 - 2:19pm

"If the child has an inalienable human right to be born via a pairing of biological female/male parents, then how can all persons (singly or in pairs, heterosexual or homosexual) have a right to pursue their happiness in a manner that deprives a child of her/his rights?"

The author writes that "this question is not merely academic" but I would argue that it isn't academic at all. There is nothing in Anglo-American law that would prohibit gay people marrying. There is nothing in American Constitutional law or international human rights law that a child has a right to be born of biological male/female parents. With all due respect, the basis of Dr. Nassivera's argument is flawed.

Marie Haener-Patti | 5/10/2013 - 2:03pm

Using the issue of same sex parenting as an issue for questioning the legitimacy of same sex marriage is beside the point. We don't question whether heterosexual couples should be parents, indeed the church views it as a required condition for marriage, despite the fact that many should NOT be parents. I suppose any excuse is good enough...

ed gleason | 5/10/2013 - 1:43pm

According to MSNBC this morning the Mormons have abandoned their fight against SSM. Catholic laity also seem to have abandoned the fight against civil SSM. The train has left the station. .

Carlos Orozco | 5/11/2013 - 7:43pm

Any idea on which station political reasoning left Jesus?

JIM MCCREA | 5/10/2013 - 8:34pm

20 states + D. C. allow marriage equality or comparable status (civil unions and domestic partnerships) and represent 42% of the total US population of 314 million and 39% of the 50 states and DC.

The train is well down the tracks.