Posts Tagged ‘336’

Biology Uber Alles

February 16th, 2009 No comments

Here’s an interesting story, loosely based on a real set of events I recently learned about:  

A stable male couple, working through a private adoption agency, completes the required family profile. They then wait for a new mother to choose them as the best family in which to raise the child that she’s decided she cannot raise on her own.

Within days, the excited dads-to-be learn that they’ve already been selected as adoptive by a young mother. As is true in many such cases, this woman is single, and can expect no support from the father of this girl. She knows who the father is, but their relationship was brief and they have both moved on. They are barely in touch with each other.

Nonetheless, because this guy is the biological father of the child, he has an equal vote in the placement of the child. After first agreeing with the mother’s choice, he has his mind changed by his mother, who has “a problem” with the child being raised by gay parents. “Dad” changes his mind, and our male couple’s profile is rejected. 

I have no idea who actually ended up adopting this child, and whether that placement will end up working out well for the kid. It might, given that the girl is an infant and most people prefer adopting babies. On the other hand, there are complicated race issues that I’m deliberately not getting into here that might have made finding another placement tougher.

But let’s think about who has a say in this process, and whether there’s justification for this approach. I placed “Dad” in quotes earlier, because to me the biological father is about the furthest person from “Dad” that one can imagine. To repeat: He has no interest in his daughter, and no plans, ability or inclination to support her. Whether adopted or not, she’ll have many male role models — but not her own father.  

Yet he gets a vote just because of his, er, contribution to the process of creating a child. The anomaly of this result is only underscored by the further wrinkle that it wasn’t even the father himself, but his mother, whose objection scuttled this otherwise smooth plan.

But should he have any say at all? In my view, the emphasis on biology, while powerful, convenient, and historically deeply rooted, is open to serious question. This is just one case in which this adherence to the brute facts of nature might end up compromising the best interests of the child. There are others.

Consider this example: A lesbian couple has a child together, agreeing to raise him as “their” son. But because the child is biologically the child of only one of the mothers, in many states the other mother is a legal “stranger” to the child. In a few states, the couple can marry and perhaps solve the problem that way. In some others, the non-bio parent can adopt the child and thereby gain legal status. In other states, various unreliable, equitable doctrines such as “de facto parent” and “parent by estoppel” have at times been invoked to grant parental rights to the “other” mom. 

But the point is that the lack of a biological connection creates a problem that needs to be solved in the first place. Assuming there’s solid evidence of agreement to act as equal parents, why shouldn’t that suffice? 

Courts should know better than to support the efforts of former partners in same-sex relationships to stop their biological kids from seeing the other person they call “mom” or “dad” ever again.  And don’t even get me started on parents in same-sex relationships who use the law to wall out their former spouses in this way. [Short memo to them: “Have you no shame? Using laws that oppress the LGBT community for your own personal ends is loathsome.”]

The biological imperative creates other issues that aren’t usually thought of in quite that way. Tomorrow’s post will discuss another of these.                

They Might be Lesbians

January 29th, 2009 No comments

Earlier this week, a California appellate court sided with a private Lutheran school in its decision to expel two of its female students for…what, exactly?

According to the court, the school had the right to expel them based on the belief that the two 16-year-olds had “a bond of intimacy” that was “characteristic of a lesbian relationship.” The details of the students’ relationship are less than clear: there was some dispute about where their friendship stood on the BFF-to-passionate-sexual-intimacy continuum. Apart from whatever conduct the girls engaged in (or didn’t), there was also some question about their self-definition. On their MySpace pages –when will they learn? — one student described herself as “bisexual”; the other, as “not sure.” The websites also showed the girls hugging, conduct that is of course unexceptionable absent the context.  

Whether based on their conduct or their status, and despite the lack of proof, the school’s decision was upheld for the simple reason that the state’s antidiscrimination statute was found not to apply to a private, religious school. Thus, the kids’ claim of sex discrimination, alleging that boys who got into trouble were generally treated less harshly, didn’t fly, either. If the statute doesn’t apply, that’s pretty much the end of it.

After reading the case (but not the cases the court discussed in reaching its decision), it seemed to me reasonable for the court to construe existing precedent to find that the school was not a “business”; and the law doesn’t apply to private, non-commercial organizations.  Whether that precedent is correct is another issue, though.  In some sense, such a school is a business — it charges money, and entities aren’t excluded from the statute’s coverage simply because of their non-profit status.

But I don’t think the legal approach is best in this case, anyway. The school probably would have done better by not expelling the girls, even if they had the right to do so. (I say “probably” because the opinion doesn’t fully spell out the facts of the girls’ conduct.)

Let’s take as a given that the church teaches against homosexuality. Does it really think that expelling every high school student who is even questioning his or her sexuality is the best idea? Adolescence is a time for questioning just about everything, including one’s religious beliefs. A school can embrace this challenge, inviting and encouraging dialogue about the basis for religious belief and the complex relationships between sexuality, its physical expression, and the demands of faith. My guess is that there are other students who engage in — or who have perhaps thought about engaging in — other sexual acts (even ones between members of the opposite sex!) that go against Lutheran teaching. Is it not odd that a religion born of a healthy questioning of religious teaching is fostering an atmosphere in which such questioning will be punished?     

Categories: Civil Rights, Gay Rights, religion Tags: , , , , ,