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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.