When Three Parents are Better Than Two

There was an Op-Ed last week in the NYTimes in reaction to a court case in PA recently, where a state Superior Court ruled that three parents were obligated to provide child support for two children. The children were conceived by two lesbian parents with the sperm of a friend. The couple is no longer together, and all three parents were given visitation rights and child support obligations by the court.

In her Op-Ed, Marquardt argues that these types of rulings (and there have been similar ones made in foreign courts in the past) are bad for children. She argues that it leads to instability for children, who can get shuffled between multiple homes (maybe now even five!). She cites a study she completed that found that even children in good divorces, where both parents stay in their lives, “grow up too soon.”

Then she attacks polygamy–based on the idea that these triple parents might want to live together, and that turns into the possibility for group marriage protections. Her piece ends with a plea for the defense of the two person legal parenthood.

The Op-Ed definitely made me think. Should more than two people be given legal rights over a child? Courts have already expanded the definition of parenthood–it no longer is based solely on biological relationships. If two people are married, and one gives birth to a child, the husband is automatically placed on the birth certificate (without proof of paternity). Step-parents adopting their step-children is becoming common place, and more and more children are being raised by just one parent. So why should we fight people who want to find new ways to parent?

It’s the legal protection that always becomes the issue–when should the courts mandate or protect someone’s right as a parent. These debates are inevitably going to be played out as LGBT family creation and marriage equality continue to press the issue and courts are forced to make decisions. If people are parenting in alternative situations, picking and choosing which two people get to be legal parents isn’t going to make the situation any easier for kids.

While I understand Marquardt’s arguments that these situations can create instability (I myself am a product of what she classifies as a “good” divorce situation), what’s the alternative? Two stable households are definitely preferable to one unstable (and unhappy one), and while I did have to adjust to two different value situations, I was also able to benefit from two different support systems and parenting styles. And kids growing up to fast? Look around us Elizabeth, at television, video games, the internet. I don’t think the courts can reign that in, no matter how hard they try.

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