Like so many youth before me, I went through an extended phase in young adulthood of wanting nothing to do with my family of origin. So upon graduation, I moved halfway across the country, abandoned family traditions, and did everything I was taught not to. Even when I came home for the holidays, I would standoffishly refuse to sing carols and doze through our annual reading of the Nativity story, thinking rather of what material goods awaited me Christmas morning.
Years later, I’ve come to regret my folly. All the things I was doing, and the people I was doing them with, felt unnatural to me, and like the Prodigal Son I’ve since returned home. Not literally. I still live halfway across the country. But in spirit, I’ve come to embrace the traditions, talents, and wisdom my parents passed down to me.
Now when I go home for Christmas, I bask in the easy comfort of family, of bluegrass and heated competition over board games and meandering philosophical debates, and realize that I’m among my people.
I’m blessed, of course, in that I’m not in any doubt as to who my people are and where I come from. For many, it’s not such a simple equation, and the proliferation of same-sex marriage and adoption, surrogate motherhood, and artificial reproductive technology have muddied the waters significantly.
In response to these issues, the Arkansas Supreme Court recently ruled that for newborn children of lesbian married couples, only the biological mother should be listed on the original birth certificate. The non-biological spouse won’t be listed as a parent. In the majority opinion, Justice Josephine Linker Hart stated:
The question presented in this case does not concern either the right to same-sex marriage or the recognition of that marriage, or the right of a female same-sex spouse to be a parent to the child who was born to her spouse…
In the situation involving the female spouse of a biological mother, the female spouse does not have the same biological nexus to the child that the biological mother or the biological father has. It does not violate equal protection to acknowledge basic biological truths.
Predictably, the LGBT left has interpreted this as discrimination against same-sex marriage partners and a refusal to accept the forward march of post-Obergefell history. In doing so, they continue to ignore the very real issues of origin and identity presented by the progressive crusade to redefine family.
‘Parent 1, Where Did I Come From?’
We must first recognize that a birth certificate is precisely that: a legal document of birth, an acknowledgement of a person’s existence and origin. It isn’t some kind of family license, or a token of the state’s approval or lack thereof. Even in cases of adoption, the state maintains an original certificate with the child’s biological parents listed, offering the family an amended certificate for their own use.
This policy reflects a basic truth: it matters where people come from. Long, long ago, I learned in Psych 101 that the “blank slate” theory of human development has been thoroughly debunked. Children are born with the blueprint for their personalities and abilities and preferences built into their genes, 50 percent from each parent. Genetics largely dictate all people’s physical existence, not only their appearance but their strengths and limitations, allergies, or risks for disease or mental illness. For these reasons alone, both the state and individual have an interest in accurate accounting of each person’s origins.
Even beyond such purely practical concerns, people feel a longing to know where they come from, to have that sense of belonging and continuity. It’s an established phenomenon that many who come even from the most loving and stable adoptive homes still seek connection with their biological origins, especially later in life. Without it, they may feel a sense of loss and of being lost.
In cases where parents adopt a child of a different race, it’s generally agreed that they should make some effort maintain the child’s ties to her cultural background, or at the very least, leave that door open. When she asks, “Mommy, daddy, why don’t I look like you?” the adoptive parents should encourage, not suppress, such inquiries.
But why should this be any less true of a child raised by same-sex parents? Once he learns how babies are made, neither a birth certificate nor the most thorough progressive cultural conditioning will be able to answer the perennial question: “Where did I come from?”
Daily I see this longing to connect with one’s origin in my profession, sometimes under tragic circumstances. In my work with the Department of Child Services, I deal regularly with children placed in foster care because their parents were violent, neglectful, drug-addicted, or homeless. By nearly any objective measure, many of these kids would be better off to cut ties with their biological parents completely in favor of adoption.
Yet so often I see children express a palpable yearning to be reunified, even with parents who may have beaten or molested them. In my less composed moments I want to tell them, “You know what? Your parents suck. This adopting couple over here is way better. Why don’t you just make them your parents and go on about your life?” But rarely do the children share these sentiments. We can’t help but reach for our roots.
I don’t want to suggest that everyone feels this same longing, nor do I wish to minimize the real and beautiful bonds between parents and their adopted children. I only mean to emphasize that, as Justice Hart puts it, “basic biological truths” do matter, and it’s entirely fitting for a birth certificate to acknowledge that.
The Exception That Ruins the Rule
There is a potential legal glitch here. The same-sex couples’ argument in this case is based on the law that if a newborn’s mother is married, her husband is automatically listed on the birth certificate as the child’s presumptive father. This remains the case even under those unfortunate circumstances where the husband may not be the biological father. Thus, the dissenting opinion states, legal parentage is established based on matrimony, not biology, and to deny this is an act of discrimination against same-sex married couples.
The trouble with this argument is that in the vast majority of cases, the presumptive and biological fathers are one and the same. Prior to Obergefell, it was quite reasonable to equate the two as a general rule. It would also strain the medical and legal systems (and be offensive to parents) to conduct genetic testing on husbands or dig into a couple’s history every time a child is born. Even in those cases where the husband isn’t the biological father, and the birth certificate becomes a “legal fiction,” at least it’s a work of realistic fiction, and one that may well provide the greatest stability for the child.
Applied to same-sex married couples, this reasoning is turned on its head. We know at least one same-sex parent isn’t the biological one, and can’t pretend otherwise. The couple, the hospital, and the legal system are all aware of this, and eventually the child will put it together, as well. To place two men or two women on a child’s original birth certificate may provide practical convenience and a sense of legitimacy. But it’s also a willful rejection of reality. And reality has a way of catching up to people. We’re not doing these children, or the adults they will become, any favors by lying about their origins on their very document of origin.
This ruling is a victory for children, but a small one. Arkansas is a holdout. Most states have already capitulated to the redefinition of “parent” under law, and for those that haven’t, there are sure to be more legal challenges. The legal framework on family we’ve long taken for granted may not withstand our rapidly changing culture. Lest we be swept away, we must learn to articulate and exemplify our own origins in a way we didn’t need to before, and work hard to preserve them in a less-than-supportive environment. No matter how far we go, it’s never too late to start asking where we come from.