the California governor signed a law whereby children could legally have not
just two, but three parents at the same time. This is the fifth state, plus the
District of Columbia, to have such legislation. The law is proposed, naturally,
under the rubric of “helping the child,” of keeping him out of a foster home.
Whether giving a child two “parents” of the same sex is good for the child in
the first place is likewise not brought up. The bill was not clear about who
will have authority when there is a conflict among the three parents about some
course of family action. Will it require a unanimous vote or only a 2-1
there argument over the dubious notion that a single person, or even a couple,
has an individual “right” to a child. The first question is not about a “right”
of a single person or of parents but of their duty to the good of a child. The
focus of our thinking on this issue should be on marriage and its nature.
Children are gifts, not results of “rights.” “Rights” look to something
supposedly inherently “due” to an individualsomething that one can demand
others to provide. A man and a woman are free to marry each other. What
marriage is means that their relationship can result in a child. But the child
is his own being. He is not simply a “planned product” of parents with “rights”
to him. The child must be considered at all stages of his being to be for his
own good, to which parents are ordered. The parents’ good is a result, not a
cause, of this good.
behind the new law had to do with a lesbian couple who decided to have a child,
something they obviously knew they could not have by themselves. Needless to
say, they had, as such, some insurmountable difficulty in carrying out this
“intention.” Their relationship, such as it is, can never result in a child who
is the produce of their exchanges. They can only have a child by an “imitation”
of what a real marriage between a man and a woman is. The lesbian couple thus
contracted with a male sperm donor for one of the two women to be impregnated
and subsequently to conceive and bear the child. (Presumably both women could
have been impregnated by the same man at the same time or each by a different
man). Later on, after some dispute arose between the two women, one was sick
and the other in jail. So who was to take care of the child? No mention of kin
of either lady was available for this care.
a court assigned the child to the biological father, who was obviously not
anonymous. The question of his financial and moral responsibility to the
begotten child, no matter what the lesbian couple did, was not clarified.
Obviously, he had some concern and obligation here. So he was given custody of
the child. But a later court over-ruled this arrangement on the grounds that a
child could only have two parents (though not necessarily a mother and a
father). The new law is looked upon as protecting the child. No issue is raised
about whether any child needs both its own father and a mother in the first
place. The law today evidently assumes that it makes no difference. The
three-parent arrangement was made by the law so that the child would not have
to go to a foster home, but would have title to at least one “parent.”
parents, however, the child is now to be directed by three lines of authority.
He can always play one parent off against the other two, just like playing a
mother against a father. And within the three-parent arrangement, who does have
the final authority? Do they vote in controverted cases? Does the law enforce
this vote? As I noted above, what decides, unanimity or 2-1 voting?
say, such cases cause us to speculate. What if the couple are both male? What
if each wants to have a child (his “right”)?
To exercise his “right,” each man hires a surrogate mother and impregnates
her. Now we have a four-parent family, with two babies. And for the sake of
seeing where things are going, let us suppose, after the two each have a child,
they want another child. The first two donors or surrogates are not available
or desirable. So two more providers are employed. Now we have a family with six
parents, and so on ad infinitum, with
all sorts of half brothers and sisters.
might think of the “intention” of this case and the law to cover it, we cannot
help but wonder about the inner “logic” of it. “Intention” does not change the
nature or reality of what is acted on. The “intention” of a doctor in removing
my appendix may be to make money or to gain honor at the skill of his hands.
But what he is doingwhatever he intendsis what counts. The doctor at least
has to know how an appendix is removed; otherwise he is not a doctor. Likewise,
what the legislators may “intend” is one thing, what they allow or permit is
another with its own logic that, once put in place, has its own history and
dynamism. Someone will, sooner or later, show where the principle on which the
law was made leads. There is no principle to stop four-, five-, six-, or seven-parented
families, or more.
If the logic
of an act brings about something we did not “intend,” the real issue is not in
the order of intention but in the what-it-is we are doing. The initial problem
in these cases of multiple parents is in the fact that same-sex couples,
whether they have legally what is or is not called a “marriage,” cannot have
children. They are bound by a reality that they are claiming a “right” to defy.
They have to resort to some natural or artificial means to achieve their
“intention.” One lesbian woman has either to sleep with a man to become
pregnant or she has to find or purchase a service from a sperm bank facilitated
by a doctor.
is that one of the women is the biological mother of the child. The father is
whoever the source of the sperm was. The third “parent” is an on-looker, with
no real genetic interest in the child begotten by others. The resultant child
really does not have three parents. The child also lacks what it ought legally
and morally to have, namely one father and one mother. To deprive a child of
this unique relationship as a matter of law opens the gate to the kind of
absurd relationships that we are now seeing. In a “three-or-more parent”
family, we still must have, visibly or invisibly, both sexes represented.
Otherwise, nothing can happen on the child front, except adoption. But
single-sex adoption still deprives the child of a father and a mother, which is
what is really best for him. None of these arrangements are for the real good
of the child. They all are for the selfish interests of those who refuse
marriage as it must be and claim “rights” to have what they cannot have.
of marriage and parenting has a long turbulent history, beginning with Adam and
Eve. I once had an older African student in a class in which the issue of
tribal polygamy came up. He humorously explained to an astonished group of
students how a “family” with one husband and 10 wives, with their children,
works. Generally there is a “first wife” who has authority over the compound.
But each wife cares primarily for her own children. The chief, of course, is
the final authority. The issue of how one man’s 10 wives deprive other young
men of wives is usually left in silence. Sometimes such polygamy is justified
on the grounds that many of the young men were killed in battle.
Testament tells us of the many wives of the Hebrew kings. It was not always an
easy arrangement. Even though this system violated the one man, one wife rule,
still it did not confuse paternity. The children knew their father and mother,
however things worked in the compound. I once had another student, a Chinese
girl, who was the 26th child of her father. He had two wives, each with 13
children. Chinese law at the time allowed bigamypolyandry, on the other hand,
was considered wrong because it was not possible to tell for certain who the
father of each child was. Modern DNA methods can now identify more exactly who
is father and mother.
The Guinness Book of Records tells us that
an American woman by the name of Linda Essex had 23 husbands, which seems to be
the record. Brigham Young was said to have had 55 wives. I read somewhere that
Osama bin Laden was the 51st child of his father. We see the potential for
dynastic struggle here, something that came up also in the Old Testament.
Muslim law, as we know, permits four wives. Muslim law also permits or even
requires the marriage of cousins, a practice that often leads to serious
genetic ills. The classic prohibition of incest arises in part from this fact,
something we also know from the marriages of European royalty.
with divorce and remarriage, we have what might be called serial polygamy or
polyandry, where one man or woman has multiple legal or illegal partners for a
time but with identifiable children from each union. With divorce, we have
families with half- or step-brothers and sisters. Records of child abuse within
families most often involve step or in-law issues. Adoption is also a method of
legally assigning parents to children either without parents (orphans) or who
are not otherwise cared for. Adoption remains the best way for non-fertile
couples of man and woman to include a child in their family. These multiple
forms of family are designed to do what marriage is supposed to do, arrange for
the begetting and education of children in a stable family-like situation over
the time of the child’s growing up. We are only beginning to deal with cloned
or extra-womb begotten children whose lineage is not clear and for whom no one
is really responsible. One might add, however, that certain strands of
political theory are opposed to the family as such, because they are seen as
impediments to full state power. Hence we see the begetting of children outside
of the family or in factory-like circumstances to be the proposed alternative.
This idea was found even in the writings of Plato.
laboratories, all sorts of imagined combinations might be produced. We also
talk of “designing” babies so they will look like we want. This planning means
giving them genes or other inputs that would change the child’s visage or
brains. In England, there is also a three-parent law being considered to
prevent a certain kind of genetic disease connected with a cell’s mitochondria.
This procedure would require a donor, which would technically violate the law
against tampering with a genetic strain. One suspects that these issues are
only becoming more and more complicated.
One cannot help think, on learning of these
things, that the “brave new world” began quite some time ago. And it began not
in the scientific laboratory, but in the minds and desires of men, generally in
those striving to improve nature and to enable us to do what we want. When all
of this began, no one thought that one of the things that we would “want” was a
world in which our children had “multiple parents.” We begin to suspect that it
is not an improvement.