What About the Children?

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

What About the Children?

Zoe recently wrote scathingly about gays and lesbians who use homophobic laws to deny their ex-partners access to children that the two had been raising together.

The flip side of those cases are the ones in which the ex who is continuing to take care of the kids after the breakup sues for child support. The California Supreme Court--no bastion of liberalism in recent years--unanimously ruled in two cases that even if the ex has no biological relationship to the children, she has a responsibility for their care and upbringing and cannot refuse to provide at least financial support, if nothing more.

The article I linked to has the requisite quote from the "pro-family" [sic] camp decrying the decisions.

But what about the kids in these cases? Mr. Pro-Family says the ruling makes "moms and dads as a unit irrelevant when it comes to raising children." First, that's illogical; there's nothing about the rulings that affects the rights and responsibilities of parents and children in one-male-adult, one-female-adult families. It hardly makes the mother and father in that scenario "irrelevant" as a unit. The real complaint is that the ruling could undermine the social notion that such units are superior to a two-woman or two-man unit by giving kids in the latter situations the same rights as their peers in more traditional families.

And that's the larger problem with this argument: this case isn't about the rights of the adults; it's about the right of the children to be adequatlely provided for in material terms. Which is why I say kudos to the editor for finding the right headline: "High Court Protects Kids of Calif. Gays."

The fact is that in most cases like this, there is no mom-and-dad unit. The choice isn't whether to prefer that model to the one that actually exists in a particular child's life, because the traditional model simply isn't available (except in the minority of cases in which the biological parent shacks up with someone of the opposite sex in her next relationship). The choice is whether or not to give a child a better chance of having adequate food, clothing, and the other things that parents are financially obligated to provide. Maybe you think gay and lesbian couples should be prevented from having children in the first place, though that's frankly impossible as a practical matter. But when gay and lesbian couples do end up with children, whether by artificial insemination, adoption, or otherwise, should the children be denied the basic rights to which we generally think all children should be entitled? This should be a no-brainer.

The first kind of case, in which there's a custody/visitation fight, should also be a no-brainer. If you apply the normal child's-best-interest test to those cases, and it's apparent in a particular case that it's in a child's best interest to have continued visitation with the noncustodial ex-partner, why punish the child because you don't approve of the no-longer-existing relationship between the people who have been raising her? And consider this: if we're going to require the noncustodial parent to meet her financial responsibilities to the child, can we reasonably say categorically that even though she's got to continue paying, she cannot have any contact with her child?

It's a cliche that social conservatives care about children only until they are born, and I don't think it's true, generally speaking. (The policies of the Republican Party, on the other hand....). But in cases like this, the cliche sure hits the mark.

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