Moms Behaving Badly

I hate these stories. A couple in love decides to start a family. They do. Their bond cracks under the strain of parenting (parents, y’all know exactly what I’m talking about). As they break up, instead of putting the child’s well-being first, one of them tries to keep the other one entirely out of their child’s life.

In this case, both parents are women, “law enforcement officers,” according to the AP. In order to have their bond to their child be mutual from the start, one donated her eggs and the other implanted the embryo and bore the child. When they broke up, the birth mom took the child to Australia. The bereft ova-mom hired a private detective and tracked her down. Now they’re in the Florida courts, where the ova-mom is insisting that they were both parents all along.

You didn’t, by any chance, think that lesbians are nicer when breaking up than heterosexuals are? Ha! Don’t get me started.

If only they could have gotten married! One major reason for marriage is that it clarifies parenthood. It’s long been settled law that, biology or not, the mother’s husband is the child’s father—even if the husband was on another continent when the child was conceived. (Check out Michael D. v. Gerald H., in which Scalia rejects a biological father’s claim to paternity, ruling in favor of the husband who had acted as a father.) If a cuckold is a legal father, why not the woman without whom the child would never have been conceived—either literally, donating the egg, or figuratively, dreaming up the plan of adding to the family?

This is going to be discussed as a rights-of-egg-donors case. It shouldn’t. It’s a child’s rights case. Does this child have the right to remain tied to both of her parents? Loss of a loving parent in childhood is the number one precursor for clinical depression as an adult. Children crave emotional stability. Unless a parent is abusive, children need ongoing ties to those who love them and whom they love. The fact that, here, both parents are physiologically tied to the child shouldn’t be the critical factor. What matters is that this little girl shouldn’t have one of her parents torn away. 

About 15 or 20 years ago I first started following bitter splits between two women who had together decided to conceive and raise a child. In these vicious breakups, the bio-mother was willing to take her ex to court and swear that that woman had never been a mother at all—she was just a babysitter, a former roommate, a lesbian, for god’s sake—and should be permitted no contact whatsoever with the child. LGBT advocates were out of their minds about these women who were willing to lay down horrible case law that could hurt thousands of other lesbian-headed families, just to get back at that b***h. About a decade ago, I wrote about three such cases in which the second mom had legally adopted the child, something that could happen only with the bio-mom’s consent and participation, since lesbians couldn’t yet marry. These bio-moms or primary legal moms were so poisoned with hatred and self-righteousness that they challenged the state laws that enabled two-mom families to have legal ties to their children. Had they won, the judgment would have put thousands of families at risk. Fortunately, the “best interest of the child” principle overrode any judicial queasiness about homos, and all three states’ top courts (if I remember correctly, they were California, Iowa, and North Carolina) ruled that the adoptions had to stand.

Let me mention another notorious bad-mom case. In 2000, Lisa and Janet Miller-Jenkins moved from Virginia to Vermont to get a civil union and protect their family. Two years later, Lisa gave birth to their daughter. The civil union included a presumption of shared parenthood. Then they broke up. Lisa absconded with the girl to Virginia, called herself born again, swore off being lesbian, and tried to get the state of Virginia—which had a superDOMA that banned recognition of any civil union, for any purpose—to declare her the sole parent. After years in court, the Virginia Supreme Court upheld a Vermont family court judgment that awarded Janet visitation. Then, Lisa fled with the child to Nicaragua; one of the ministers who helped her evade arrest and get out of the country was recently arrested.

Needless to say, it’s the child who suffers in all these cases. Sane and balanced people put the children ahead of their own feelings and work hard to break up amicably and parent together nevetherless. But law is made for those people who can’t manage their differences.

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