Minnesota lawmakers fiddle with meaning of 'parent'

  • Article by: RYAN C. MACPHERSON
  • Updated: March 25, 2013 - 11:11 AM

The Legislature’s proposed allowance for up to six adults to claim biological parentage of the same child takes the marriage debate to a new level.

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As the cliché would have it, “You can’t legislate morality.” But some Minnesota lawmakers think they can legislate biology instead.

The interaction of two bills introduced in the Legislature this session defies the facts of Biology 101. A “biological parent,” as crafted in SF370 and SF925, would no longer include only the birth mother and the man who got her pregnant, but potentially six persons.

The Legislature’s proposed allowance for up to six adults to claim biological parentage of the same child takes the marriage debate to a new level. No longer will people be asking whether every child has the right to a mom and a dad — or whether same-sex couples can raise children just as well as opposite-sex couples. Now a child can have up to six persons whom the law will recognize as “presumptive biological parents.”

Presumptive, indeed.

Here’s how the old-fashioned system worked, and still works in Minnesota today. The law calls a woman who gives birth to a child the “biological mother” of that child. The law calls a man who is currently married to her, or at least was married to her at the time of conception, the “presumptive biological father” of that child. If pregnancy resulted from relations with a man not married to the mother, the law has clear procedures for identifying who the biological father is. This is quite important, since fundamental legal rights and responsibilities concerning children flow from biological parentage.

But a handful of legislators want to change this legal recognition of the most basic biological relationship.

Senate File 925, the Senate version of a bill to legalize same-sex marriage, requires that to “establish parentage presumptions based on marriage, gender-specific terminology … must be construed in a neutral manner to refer to a person of either gender.” In other words, the current presumptive paternity rule (Minnesota Statute 257.55) must be construed as: “A man (insert: or woman) is presumed to be the biological father (insert: or mother) of a child if he (insert: or she) and the child’s biological mother (insert: or father) are or have been married to each other and the child is born during the marriage, or within 280 days after the marriage is terminated.”

In plain English, if the state recognizes two women as wife and wife, and one of them gives birth, then the state will presume both of them to be the “biological mothers” of that child. But, as taught in Biology 101, it also takes a man to make this happen. Current law recognizes him as the “biological father,” for reasons that hopefully need not be explained further. The proposed revision would recognize his spouse — whether another man or a woman — to be a biological parent, too.

So, the child will have four “biological parents” in the eyes of the law: Mom 1, who gave birth; Mom 2, who is married to Mom 1; Dad 1, who provided the sperm to Mom 1; and, if Dad 1 is married or was married during the 280 days preceding birth, then state law will assign the child yet one more “biological parent” — the spouse of Dad 1.

Still following? There’s more. Senate File 370, a bill to establish parentage by surrogacy, would stretch the definition of “biological father” (and “biological mother,” if the gender-neutral policy of SF925 also is enacted) to include any person who enters into a contract for reproductive surrogacy “intend[ing] at the outset of the process to be the legal parent.” Of course, SF925 also would make that person’s spouse yet one more “biological parent” — for a total of six.

Let’s count again to be sure. Man 1 and Woman 1 would be permitted to donate or sell sperm and egg for the conception of a child, and Woman 2 may rent out her womb for gestation of that child. And any person married to one of those three persons, whether of the opposite or of the same sex, also would have presumptive legal claims as “biological parents.”

How can this be? It began when someone said, “You can’t legislate morality.” Actually, lawmakers can. But when politicians attempt instead to redefine human biology, then the problems really start.

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Ryan C. MacPherson is senior editor of The Family in America: A Journal of Public Policy, and chair of the History Department at Bethany Lutheran College in Mankato. The views expressed here are solely his own.

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