The Corner

The one and only.

De Facto Parents


The notion that the fundamental purpose of marriage is to encourage mothers and fathers to stay together for the sake of their children is being powerfully eroded by the movement for same-sex marriage. You can see the connection in this article, “Court Redefines Parenthood,” The Seattle Times.

In this case, a lesbian couple conceived a child through sperm donation from a friend. The non-birth mother member of the female couple did not adopt the child, but acted as the stay-at-home mother while the other woman worked. When the couple broke up, the non-birth mother was denied access to the child by the birth mother. She sued and has now been recognized as the de facto second parent by the court. In the meantime, the birth mother married the child’s biological father. Yet he is still not recognized as the child’s legal father. The other parent is the de facto second mother. So the two biological parents are now married and living together, yet the legal parents are separated and at odds.

In itself, this scenario is profoundly destructive of marriage. But let’s say the lesbian couple reconciles after the child has lived for a few years with its biological (but not legal) father. At that point we’d have a strong case for recognizing a third parent (even in defacto terms, let alone biological). The very fact that the lesbian mother is now married to the sperm donor father points to the possibility of trios demanding group marriage, and accompanying recognition of group parentage. That in turn would usher in full legal recognition of polyamory. I discussed this possibility in “Beyond Gay Marriage.”

Gay marriage advocates are thrilled with this ruling. They think it indicates that the state supreme court may legalize same-sex marriage. They’re also delighted with the court’s endorsement of unconventional family forms, and will undoubtedly attempt to push the law in this direction in other states. This case certainly conveys the ways in which in which gay marriage will be destructive of the norms that encourage birth parents to marry in order to protect their children. It will be next to impossible to avoid triple parent scenarios when a non-birth mother is married to a birth-mother-through-sperm-donation. Of course, this whole legal direction is deeply destructive of the two-parent norm.

Gay marriage advocates argue that the fundamental connection between marriage and parenthood has already been destroyed. That’s not true. This case was a split decision, with a stinging dissent and vocal public opposition. The very novelty of the case conveys that society as a whole has not yet agreed to give up its conception of marriage as a union designed to keep mothers and fathers together for the sake of their children. Six other states recognize de facto parents, but the rest do not. This battle is still alive, but gay marriage will only take us further in the direction of the Washington state decision–until marriage’s essential function is destroyed. In any case, the sympathies of gay marriage advocates in this matter are deeply revealing of the true implications of same-sex marriage. By the way, this case may well be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.


Sign up for free NRO e-mails today:

Subscribe to National Review