The Emerging Clash Between Adult Rights and Children’s Needs
About the Guest
With our culture's advances in reproductive technology, we now find ourselves faced with questions we've never had to ask before, such as, "Who is the father or mother, legally?" On today's broadcast, Dennis Rainey talks with researcher and author, Elizabeth Marquardt, about society's redefinition of the family. Find out how these changing views are affecting children around the world.
Elizabeth MarquardtElizabeth Marquardt is the director of the Center for Marriage and Families at the Institute for American Values, a nonpartisan think tank focused on children, families, and civil society. Her essays and op-ed pieces have appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, and elsewhere. She lives in Chicago with her husband and two children.
Who is the father or mother, legally?
The Emerging Clash Between Adult Rights and Children’s Needs
And, if it's more appropriate, you may want to tune in and listen to our program later on FamilyLife.com. I wanted to give you that heads up as we begin today's program.
Medical science is making all kinds of new reproductive technologies available to a variety of couples including gay and lesbian couples. The fact that we can do something doesn't mean we ought to do it. Elizabeth Marquardt says there are serious questions that need to be asked.
Elizabeth: I strongly sympathize with the desire of gay lesbian couples for children. My question to these couples with whom I am in sympathy is, "Yes, you want to have a child related to you because you have a need for a child. Yet that child also has a need; a need that cannot be wished away simply because it's inconvenient for you or because it makes you feel bad. That child has a need for his or her own mother and father."
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, May 24th. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. Should a child's need for both a mom and a dad make some reproductive choices off limits for couples? We'll talk about that today – stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us. Be warned, listeners, our host has that look in his eye, that soapbox look in his eye. You know what I'm talking about, don't you? And you do have it.
Dennis: It's called "convictions" – where truth and life collide, and they demand a response, and this culture is filled, it's a target-rich environment right now. This subject that we're about to talk about – I'm going to use some of the words that's used in some of the news and the television talk shows.
Bob: Why don't you explain who that was laughing at the beginning of the program before you do that?
Dennis: Let me finish with my thought first – this broadcast is going to have some disturbing, shocking implications for your family.
Bob: You're trying to sound like O'Reilly, aren't you?
Dennis: No, no, no. No, I'm not trying to sound like him, but this really does – this will get your attention, and we have with us again this week, Elizabeth Marquardt. Elizabeth, welcome back to FamilyLife Today.
Elizabeth: Thank you.
Dennis: Elizabeth is the director for Center for Marriage and Families at the Institute of American Values, which is a think tank that is focused on the future of our children and our families and how to have a civil society, which we definitely need today, and she is here talking about a new report that has just come out called "The Revolution in Parenthood, the Emerging Global Clash Between Adult Rights and Children's Needs," and we've already talked about this.
If you didn't hear it, you need to go back and listen to our conversation that Bob and I, along with Elizabeth, had, because what's happening in the area of redefinition of marriage, redefinition of parenthood and what it means to be a mommy and a daddy has significant implications not only for our future but for today as well.
Now, Elizabeth, as you were working on this, you came across a number of startling headlines and stories on the Internet from country after country that have embraced same-sex marriage, same-sex parenting and, really, are just being spoken of in ho-hum language, has headlines in newspapers and talk shows, et cetera. Can you recall some of those to share with our listeners?
Elizabeth: Certainly. What's really incredible, when you read the news from around the world, which the Web allows us to do nowadays is how, you were saying, a real dramatic assault on the two-person, mother/father model of parenthood in a number of cultures.
It's often coming about as a result of the same-sex marriage debate or the legalization of same-sex marriage. Reproductive technologies used by heterosexuals are often used as well.
So, for instance, major commissions in Australia and New Zealand last year proposed allowing children conceived with sperm or egg donors to have three legal parents. This will be the first time in any Western nation that a child would have three legal parents, and the phrasing is that they said the sperm donor or egg donor could opt in as a parent.
Which got my attention, because since when do we let biological parents opt in and opt out of parenthood? You know, the guy who is paying child support for 18 years, he didn't get to opt out, so why does the sperm donor?
But moreso some of these scenarios proposing three legal parents, there's a major case in Canada right now, in Ontario, in which a lesbian couple want their sperm donor friend to be recognized as their child's third legal parent.
These cases really challenge the two-person definition of marriage.
Dennis: I am not a researcher like you are, I don't do it for a living, but I look at a lot of research. I've never read any research that says it is equally as healthy for a child to grow up with two women or two men as it is with a mother and a father who are committed to one another in marriage.
Now, I was watching television the other night, and I saw a person who was promoting gay rights to be able to adopt children or have children in their "family." And this particular woman was touting a huge body of research, according to her, that says it is equally as beneficial and healthy for a little boy or a little girl to grow up in a home where they don't have the role model of a mother and a father together, but two mommies or two daddies. Speak to that.
Elizabeth: Where we are right now in the research on children of same-sex couples is where we were with regard to children of divorce in the 1970s. When the divorce revolution took off, we had a spate of studies, which advocates of divorce pointed to a lot and said, "Children are fine." All the studies show that children of divorce turn out no different than those whose parents stay married, and they're fine.
We have a similar body of studies today. The problems with these studies are manifold. Some of it is bad science, but it's not necessarily bad science, it's just early limited studies often conducted by advocates for same-sex couples' parenting rights.
Dennis: You're saying they're biased already as they begin their study?
Elizabeth: Some are, yes, and the samples are small, they're often self-selected by people who are already on list serves, and they're already well educated and affluent and don't have problems in their families, and that's why they're happy to talk to a researcher about it.
The studies often rely on mothers' reports of their mothering rather than on objective measures of the child's well being. The studies often compare children in lesbian households to single-mother households, so they compare children in one kind of fatherless family to children in another kind of fatherless family – how these children compare to children who grow up with their own married mother and father is the big question, and we just don't know yet, particularly in terms of the larger, more vigorous, long-term studies.
We don't have that yet, and one of my concerns is that we get that, and it's hard to get funding for that kind of thing because this is a really controversial area. So one of the things that we have to do is get this debate going so that we can help to engender that kind of research to happen, because it desperately needs to happen.
Bob: We've been in situations where the question has come up – wouldn't it be better for a child to be adopted into a same-sex union than to be in the foster care system for an extended period of time? Wouldn't it be better for him to have a home, a permanent place where he is going to be?
Dennis: Where two people love each other.
Bob: That's right. And as I've heard that argument, I've asked myself, if the question is what is best for the child, it seems clear that the answer is, "If there's a mom and a dad who are committed to one another and love one another, that's what's best for the child.
Dennis: And, to me, the bigger debate is for the community of faith, the church, to step into this shortfall that exists in every state in America, in the foster care system, where there, right now, are over 150,000 children nationwide who are in the foster care system who are adoptable. In other words, they could be adopted if there were families who would adopt them.
And here is where the homosexual community wins the day in terms of opinion – when they step in, and they come riding in on a white horse and say, "Give us those children. We'll raise them."
Bob: "We'll love them."
Dennis: "We'll love those children that don't have a home." My point is, why does our foster care system have even a child in it for any length of time that the church, the Christian community, the community that represents the heart of Jesus Christ who said, "If you've given a child a cup of water in My name, you've cared for Me."
I mean, the Christian community ought to be leading the way in terms of foster care adoption, in terms of adoption itself, and also orphan care. This shouldn't be an issue for our culture today where there would be any children available to be adopted into the gay community.
Elizabeth: One of the funny things in this report – I don't talk about adoption much, because I really see it as kind of a separate issue. I see adoption and the issues surrounding it as children who are already here who need homes, and tough decisions often have to be made in that already-lived reality.
A lot of what I take on in this report are situations in which the children are not already here. They are being dreamed about in people's minds, they're being thought up by two or more adults.
Dennis: It's true planned parenthood.
Elizabeth: It is truly intentional planned parenthood taken to its extreme, and that's really what I want to take on not only because of the resulting children but also because of how it shapes our ideas about parenthood and what is it for?
One of the funny things to come – we were talking a little bit earlier today, just among us, about abortion, and there's a lot that happens with abortion, but one thing that's come out of the abortion debate is this dialog about the "wanted child" – that the good child is the wanted child, and we want to prevent unwanted children.
There is parallel here in the parenthood debate that good parenthood is intentional presentation. Unintentional parenthood is kind of that sloppy thing that heterosexuals do when they let their passions get carried away with them.
Homosexuals, in some ways, have the best parenthood of all, because they can't have babies accidentally. Some of them say, "Every one of our children is a wanted child," and intentional parenthood is the paradigm of the day, and it's something that troubles me to no end that a child's worth is determined by how wanted the child was …
Bob: Or how preplanned the child was.
Elizabeth: How planned the child was before conception or how wanted it was after it was conceived.
Dennis: Yes, well, the Bible is real clear about that. In Psalm 127, it says "The fruit of the womb is a reward. Blessed is he whose quiver is full of them."
Elizabeth: That's the quiverfull people – I've been hearing about them lately.
Dennis: Well, children were spoken of in Scripture repeatedly as a blessing. The issue of wanted or unwanted …
Elizabeth: They're not ours, and we don't make them, they are gifts.
Dennis: That's not even a part of the biblical vocabulary, to speak of them as wanted or unwanted. They're all a gift from God, and the question is how are we going to care for the gift, and what kind of model are we going to present?
Elizabeth: What are we called to do?
Bob: Let me ask you about the 30,000 or more children every year born in America who were conceived – I don't want to call them "petri dish" or "test tube," but …
Elizabeth: They call themselves "donor offspring," often.
Bob: Okay. What happens – you mentioned an 18-year-old who just wrote an op ed piece – what does it do to know that is my beginning. Does that affect a child?
Elizabeth: It's remarkable. There is so much to be learned from what these young people are saying. All around the world, there are people in their teens, 20s, and 30s – some older – who have sperm donor biological fathers who are starting to speak out now about their experience, and it's incredible to hear their stories. They do not speak with one voice, I do not speak for them, but I am extremely interested in what they have to say.
Many of them say something like this – "My sperm donor is half of who I am." They say, "I look in the mirror, and there's a big missing piece of the puzzle." They say that they don't understand how not just their mothers, because they often very much understand their mother's desire for a child, and they love their mothers, but they say they don't understand how state and society and medicine, doctors, could have intentionally cooperated with their mother to conceive them never to know their own fathers.
So it makes them question the justice of their whole society. As one 14-year-old girl wrote to "Dear Abby," she had just learned that she was conceived by a sperm donor, she's 14 years old, she wrote a letter to "Dear Abby." She said, "I don't understand why it's legal to just donate when a child will be born."
So here's a 14-year-old girl who is able to say, "Why are we supporting this? Where is the justice in this?" When we say, on the one hand, that most children, many of us will agree, need their fathers. On the other hand, we say, "There are these children who, because their mom really, really, really wanted a baby, they're okay without their dad."
Bob: They don't need a dad, right.
Elizabeth: And these kids growing up say there is a contradiction there. And they also say there's a contradiction in the mom uses a sperm donor rather than adopts or takes in one of these 150,000 children in foster care, the mom uses a sperm donor because she wants to be pregnant, she wants to experience pregnancy. I understand that desire. I've had two children, and what a wonderful, wonderful thing.
But the mom's biological relationship to her child is of imminent importance to the mom. That's why she's paying all this money and doing all this stuff to do it this way rather than take in one of these foster kids or adopt a baby. But the child's biological relationship to their father is not supposed to matter to the child.
So these young people – they call themselves often "donor offspring," or "persons conceived via artificial insemination," and they have various other shorthand ways of referring to themselves, and you're seeing some more in the media, a lot of times the media stories are these happy stories, the good sperm donation stories of – a lot of them are meeting through websites now, and they're finding their half-siblings who were sired by the same sperm donor, and so it's sort of these happy stories of how fun it is to be 12 years old and discover your half-sibling.
I think these stories just scratch the surface that there is so much more there for these young kids, because what happens in sperm or egg donation or surrogacy is that you not just sever a child from a relationship with their biological mother or father, but you fracture a genealogical web. Their children will be the sperm donor's grandchildren and will not know their biological line for that end.
And, by all this, I don't mean to over-emphasize biology. Biology is not everything, but it is something, it does matter. When we try to understand who we are, one of the ways we do it is we look in the mirror. And what's even more remarkable is that the people I'm talking about are the ones who know their status because the other piece here is that most of them who are sperm or egg donor offspring, especially the egg donor offspring, are never told.
And so they are living a lie within their families, and the family is harboring a big secret, and when that secret comes out, it can come out in the worst way, when the father – when the person they thought was their father dies, when the parents divorce, when there's a big fight, when somebody gets a genetic illness, and the child is worried they're going to get it. They say, "Well, actually, you won't, because your dad's not your dad."
In the meantime, we have in medicine right now more understanding than ever before of the genetic roots of illness and the importance of having your medical history known to you and available to your doctor. So you have, right now, women especially, who use egg donors to get pregnant. They tend to be affluent, professional women who delayed childbearing. They use a donor egg from a college student, they tend to keep the secret for all kinds of reasons including from their child's doctor, which means they are giving their child's pediatrician …
Bob: … false information.
Elizabeth: False information – so even at that level, the whole thing is highly questionable, and let me repeat again that I am very sympathetic to why people go this route, but there's a just a lot of problems there. Most people are never told, they don't know their status, and when they find out, it makes them lose trust in the people who raised them – "How could you keep this secret from me?"
Bob: We've got to acknowledge here, we are where we are in this regard because we have compassion for the human desire to conceive and bear children.
Bob: That's the reason we're wrestling with all of this. What we've not wrestled with is what a child needs.
Elizabeth: It's an extremely interesting moment we're in, because we have the same-sex marriage debate and rights for same-sex couples and gay and lesbian people – those debates have been moving forward for some time now.
At the same time, really, by coincidence, we're having the first generation of donor offspring coming of age and starting to tell their own stories – many of them conceived by heterosexuals.
But we have these two stories that are coming together, and there is a clash suddenly forming, and the stories coming from the donor offspring, I think, have a lot to tell us about the same-sex marriage debate and where we're going next, because what same-sex marriage requires is a mainstreaming and normalization of the use of donor – sperm and egg donors.
We've had sperm and egg donors – sperm donation has been around for a long time. It's a pretty low-tech thing to do. Egg donation is more recent. Surrogacy, in some ways, is from biblical times as well – not very high tech.
These things have been around for a while, but we haven't really had a debate about them as a society. You know, we've kind of had this idea that if doctors are doing it, it must be okay, or we do feel compassion for people struggling with infertility, so it's just kind of been there, but it hasn't been normative.
What happens with same-sex marriage is you have to normalize that and say, "This is another way of family-building, collaborative reproduction, which is the phrase of choice, is another way of building a family and requires all the legal and cultural supports and affirmation and normalization that having babies the old-fashioned way does.
And that's the debate that we need to have right now. Are we ready to go there? Because same-sex marriage is taking us there.
Bob: And collaborative parenting, again, is not taking into account what you're saying what's best for the kids.
Dennis: And what I want to say at this point is, I think, the challenge that Elizabeth is giving the Christian community, the community of faith, is someone is going to normalize something. The question is, whose voice is going to have the most reason, the most sense of truthfulness, and who is the standard-bearer by which we're going to create this normalization of a family.
Elizabeth: Right, because it's happening right now with us or without us.
Dennis: And the question is, how should we, within the community of faith, followers of Christ, enter into this debate, and I think it's with a clear, biblical definition beginning with marriage moving to what it means to be a man, what it means to be a woman, then defining what is the responsibility of a husband and a wife, a mommy and a daddy. And making it clear what a family is, what it means to be a parent, and anchoring this in the truth of Scripture without apology. But then beginning to build our case and go into the marketplace without hatred, without bashing on a group of people that don't embrace what we believe and are living other lifestyles but remembering ours is the Gospel of forgiveness. It invites people who are broken in all kinds of ways into the community of faith.
We're all broken. That's what the Gospel does – it offers us mercy and grace and forgiveness and healing and hope, and as we enter the debate, which we must do, we need to be careful, we need to be very, very careful that the love of Christ will constrain us as we have this debate.
And, Elizabeth, I appreciate you and your research and bringing this to our listeners to be able to better raise a generation of young people who, frankly, need to be trained in how to discuss this as well within our families. I just appreciate you and your work and hope you'll come back and see us again soon.
Elizabeth: Well, thank you, it's a pleasure to be here. I'd love to come back, thank you.
Bob: And let me point our listeners to the research that we've been talking about. It's on our website at FamilyLife.com. If you go and click the red button that says "Go" right in the middle of the home page, that will take you to an area of the website where you can download a PDF file, a document that contains your findings, and you can review them more specifically or have them to talk about as a family.
Again, if you have teenagers or college students, if you're in college yourself, these are issues that you need to be aware of, you need to be talking about, you need to be thinking biblically about, and the document is on our website at FamilyLife.com.
There is also a link to The Family Manifesto, which is that statement of belief around marriage and family issues that we've put together here at FamilyLife. You can download a copy of that as well and have that document to review together as a family.
And we've listed a number of resources that deal with worldview kinds of issues, cultural issues, and how to think biblically about those issues, and you'll see those listed on our website as well.
We want to provide you with resources that can help equip you to engage these kinds of cultural issues in a winsome way. So, again, go to our website, FamilyLife.com, click the red button that says "Go" in the middle of the screen, and that will take you to the area of the site where you can get more information on what's available from us here at FamilyLife Today.
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Well, tomorrow we are going to be joined by a retired U.S. Army general, who is going to help get our thinking ready for the Memorial Day weekend and particularly for honoring those who have given so much in defense of our country. I hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We'll see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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