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Of Babies and Birth Certificates

November 13, 2017
By: Jared Dobbs

Everyone knows where babies come from! Since the dawn of time, we have had words to recognize the man and woman who are responsible for bringing a particular infant into the world: father and mother.

This year’s U.S. Supreme Court decision Pavan v. Smith undermines this reality. In Pavan, several mothers conceived several babies via anonymous sperm donation, so when they were born, there was no name listed on the birth certificate under “father.” Only the mother’s name was listed on each child’s birth certificate.

The mothers were concerned. Were they troubled about the empty spot on the birth certificate where the father’s name should have been written? Did they worry that their children had been denied knowledge of their heritage? No, the mothers wanted the name of their same-sex partners listed on the original birth certificate. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed, ruling that Arkansas must designate the same-sex partner on that certificate.

Thus, it seems the word “mother” on a birth certificate no longer just refers to the woman who gave birth to the child, but also includes guardians who have committed to raising a newborn. Now, many states issue amended birth certificates in the case of adoption. Social liberals point to that practice and claim biology is dispensable because the words “father” and “mother” are not always tied to biology.

But the conclusion does not follow.

In fact, adoption is the exception that proves the rule. When a couple agrees to adopt a child, they intend to help heal the loss from a broken family. Difficult circumstances like abandonment or abuse require solutions tailored to fit what is lacking. In Pavan, the intent of the plaintiffs is fundamentally different. Rather than work to heal, they have intentionally created children who will never see their fathers.

Then they demand that the state issue a birth certificate indicating that the child has two mothers. Unlike adoption, this legal move redefines motherhood and fatherhood for everyone. There is no longer an ideal for family structure, and children do not truly need both their biological father and their biological mother. As ADF Senior Counsel Jeff Shafer writes: “Children are now accessories attending adult legal status.”

It seems the desires and demands of adults reign supreme. But this trend is hazardous to the common good of children.

The natural family has an objective structure that is based on the truth every child has a biological mother and father, and that it is the inherent duty of those two people to care for and raise that child.

The state issues birth certificates that generally recognize the identity of each child’s mother and father. Children benefit greatly from this information, so that, regardless of who ends up raising them, they have knowledge of their genealogy, which help them sort through essential questions like who they are and where they came from.

If fathers and mothers are optional, then this redefinition has abolished these categories altogether. With this kind of logic, we should just dispense with the old words on the birth certificate and replace them with “Long-Term Caregiver 1” and “Long-Term Caregiver 2.” And, for that matter, add space for a caregiver 3, 4, and so on.

If not, why not?

The truth is that words hold in place a world of meaning. Birth certificates should reflect the truth: The biological ties that mothers and fathers have to their sons and daughters are profound identity connections and carry a responsibility of permanent, binding love that children need for their own flourishing.


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