Redefining ‘Parent’ is Bad for Kids
By redefining the word “parent” to accommodate adult desire, we intentionally sever a child’s relationship to either their mother, their father, or both. Anytime that children are treated as our “right,” we inevitably violate theirs.
John StonestreetMaria Baer
In case you haven’t heard, Major League Baseball is in the middle of a lockout. Later this week, the players’ union will meet with team owners to negotiate new contracts, hopefully in time for spring training.
Imagine if all of this haggling over salaries and contracts and terms happened without the players being at the table? What if MLB team owners were negotiating with sportscasters or concession stand workers or third-base umpires over the terms and million-dollar conditions of the baseball players’ contracts, but the players had no say?
It’s an absurd notion. Negotiations only work if all of the key stakeholders are in the room. That exact scenario is happening right now at a very different, and far more consequential, negotiating table.
In 1973, states began considering (with many eventually passing) something called the Uniform Parentage Act. The legislation codified a legal definition of the word “parent,” one which more or less aligned with reality. “Parent” meant the biological parents of a child, regardless of whether they were married. (This solved prior legal questions over the rights of so-called “illegitimate children” when it came to their fathers.) The 1973 version of the act also declared that the term “parent” could apply to an adult who’d gone through the legal adoption process.
In 2002, as assisted reproductive technologies were becoming more popular and sophisticated, several states started to update their Uniform Parentage Act. The definition of “parent” was stretched to include adults with no biological relation to a child or legal adoption papers, but who had obtained the child through sperm donation, egg donation, surrogacy, or some combination thereof.
The negotiations didn’t stop there. Despite promises by activists, lobbyists, and judges that gay marriage had everything to do with consenting adults and nothing to do with bearing children, the 2015 Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges renewed calls to revise the Uniform Parentage Act again. As Katy Faust, Founder and Director of the children’s rights organization Them Before Us predicted, “When you make husbands and wives optional in marriage, mothers and fathers become optional in parenthood.”
That’s the way many legislators saw it, too. After Obergefell, multiple states revised the legal definition of “parent” under their Uniform Parentage Act again. In these states, unmarried same-sex partners of people with a child can be legally recognized as that child’s parent, even without going through the adoption process. Many of these states also allow something called “pre-birth orders” in surrogacy, which allows the couple paying a surrogate mother to apply for legal custody of that mother’s baby up to three months before the birth.
In this case, it’s not just that the stakeholder with everything to lose in these negotiations—the children—aren’t at the negotiating table, their rights aren’t even considered. If the Church is to continue its long history of defending and protecting children, especially in eras of extreme sexual exploitation, we’ll need to pay attention to this issue, show up for them, and demand their rights are considered.
As Christians, we accept that the One in charge of the definition of “parent” is the One who created the process by which we become one. However, whether or not we are Christians, biology requires a man and a woman to create a child, even if some find these mechanics of reality discriminatory or unjust.
Despite our best attempts to separate sex from procreation, which Obergefell codified into law, it simply cannot be done. Same-sex relationships cannot produce children. Children need both a mother and a father. These things remain true even if the God who created the world this way is rejected.
At the same time, the Bible acknowledges that the desire for children is both natural and good. God repeatedly honors that desire throughout Scripture, sometimes despite biological challenges like age or infertility. And, at other times, God does not give the gift of children, even to those who desperately desire them.
This tells us that despite the real pain of childlessness, children are not a right. They are, as the Bible calls them, a blessing. They come when God wills. When we venture outside His created design for children, whether through assisted reproduction or by redefining the word “parent” to accommodate adult desire, we intentionally sever a child’s relationship to either their mother, their father or both. Anytime that children are treated as our “right,” we inevitably violate theirs.
If our culture persists in negotiating the rights and terms of children’s lives, children deserve a seat at the table. That’s exactly what Katy Faust and Them Before Us is working to provide. I hope you’ll check out her work and get involved at thembeforeus.com.
Them Before Us
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John Stonestreet & Maria Baer | BreakPoint | May 15, 2020
Adoption Is Beautiful, Surrogacy Isn’t
John Stonestreet & Shane Morris | BreakPoint | June 11, 2021
The Problem with Surrogacy Isn’t the Price
John Stonestreet & Maria Baer | BreakPoint | December 7, 2021
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