Your Lying Eyes

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05 August 2006

Are You My Other Mommy?

From the NYT:
Isabella Miller-Jenkins has two mothers, the Vermont Supreme Court ruled yesterday. The court rejected a host of arguments from Isabella’s biological mother, Lisa Miller, that her former lesbian partner, Janet Jenkins, should be denied parental rights.
The couple were separated when the child was just over a year old. The birth mother then moved to Virginia, where a court has since denied the lesbian partner any visitation rights and refused any recognition of Vermont civil unions. Meanwhile, a court in Vermont granted the partner visitation rights and has cited the birth mother with contempt for violating the order. The child is now 4 years old.

The Vermont Supreme Court's decision, though it mostly addresses the jurisdictional issues, seems to hinge on the concept of parental rights when an anonymous sperm donor is the father. The court noted that in conventional marriages, the husband is considered the legally 'natural' father when the mother is artificially inseminated. The court also cited an earlier ruling in a same-sex case questioning the need for the partner to legally adopt such a child:
To deny the children of same-sex partners, as a class, the security of a legally recognized relationship with their second parent serves noo legitimate state interest...our paramount concern should be with the effect of our laws on the reality of children's lives...[T]he advancement of reproductive technologies and society's recognition of alternative lifestyles...have produced families in which a biological, and therefore a legal, connection is no longer the sole organizing principle. But it is the courts that are required to define, declare and protect the rights of children raised in these families, usually upon their dissolution.
Very true, but how does a second mother (or father) fit with the rights of children, exactly? Do these justices imagine 4-year old Isabella, wide eyes looking up at her mother, asking where's her father? Then where's my other mommy? Do they foresee legions of single-parent raised children on reaching maturity, sensing a gaping hole in their identity, striking out in search of their mothers' discarded lesbian lovers?

By now of course the child will have absolutely no recognition of Ms Jenkins who's been out of her life now for nearly 3 years, never mind being able to comprehend what a civil union is and how it is that she has two mothers. I don't wish to pretend to lack any sympathy for the estranged woman who no doubt feels great pain over the separation from the child. But this kind of deprivation can happen to grandparents, aunts and close friends as well. Proponents of gay marriage often point out that many heterosexual marriages are childless to beat back the marriage-is-for-the-children argument, but here we see how easily children are drawn right into the battle.

The Vermont Supreme Court no doubt felt a strong obligation to defend its sovereignty and laws in this decision, but any further enforcement will lead to certain backlash. The Defense of Marriage Act (which the court also rejected as inapplicable) will no doubt be amended to clear up any jurisdictional confusion. I think what the court has done here is give a nice little gift to Republicans this fall - with both the situation in the Mideast and the economy declining daily, issues like this will seem heaven-sent.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

i don't get your argument. i think there's a pretty good likelihood that if a child is aware s/he was brought into this world because of the choice of her bio mom and her partner, s/he would want to meet his/her other mother. if that is kept a secret from the child, s/he may naturally be somewhat surprised upon learning about it, but wouldn't necessarily prevent him/her from seeking out his/her other parent.
i also don't think taking a child away from a parent is quite the same of cutting ties with a child's aunt or grandparent. we're talking about someone who made a choice and took an active role in bringing a child (HER child) into the world. all children of divorce should be so lucky to have the non-custodial parent want to play such an active role in his/her life.
i remember being sickened by this story when i first read about it in the times about a year ago. the poor non-bio mom was dumped, her ex-lover likened her relationship to their child to that of a mere stranger on the street, and her child taken away from her.

August 25, 2006 12:52 AM  
Blogger ziel said...

Yes, it's very tough on the dumped woman - almost heartlessly so. But I don't think the child will have any interest in learning about her - the child will not be able to make sense of it and will have no ability to process that other woman as a "parent."

I would also argue that a gradparent or aunt has a greater natural interest in the child than an adoptive mother in that they actually share 1/4 or 1/8 of the child's DNA as opposed to merely an emotional investment. It depends on your point of view - obviously many agree with your view otherwise this wouldn't have even arisen.

Legally this is very interesting too. I don't think that with the Defense of Marriage Act that Vermont has a leg to stand on. If, however, the courts do rule for Vermont, then the reaction in Congress will be swift and harsh, so I don't think that those fighting for same-sex relationships should push this case too far.

August 25, 2006 8:30 AM  
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March 14, 2007 6:59 PM  

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