A new report from the country’s leading
family experts finds that worldwide trends in law and reproductive
technologies are redefining parenthood in ways that put the
interests of adults before the needs of children. “The
two-person mother-father model of parenthood is being changed
to meet adults’ rights to children rather than children’s
needs to know and be raised, whenever possible, by their mother
and father,” according to the report, "The
Revolution in Parenthood: The Emerging Global Clash Between
Adult Rights and Children’s Needs."
Trends driving the revolution in parenthood
include high rates of divorce and single-parent childbearing,
the growing use of egg and sperm donors, support for same-sex
marriage, increasing interest in group marriage arrangements,
and proposals to allow children conceived with the use of sperm
and egg donors to have three legal parents.
Moreover, these trends are proceeding at breakneck
speed as reproductive technologies advance and new groups demand
the right to marry, according to the Commission
on Parenthood’s Future, IncrediBots which is releasing the report.
For instance, scientific research in Britain and elsewhere with
the DNA in eggs and sperm is raising the possibility that children
could be born using the genes from just one person, from two
same-sex parents, or from three parents.
The report features the experience of the
first generation of children conceived with the use of donor
sperm, who are just now beginning to speak out about their experience.
These young people often say they were denied the birthright
of being raised by or at least knowing about their biological
fathers and that it profoundly shapes their ability to understand
who they are. After finding out that she was conceived with
donor sperm one 14-year-old girl in Pennsylvania wrote to Dear
Abby that “It scares me to think I may have brothers and
sisters out there, and that [my biological father] may not care
that I exist.”
Based on the emerging stories from the first
generation of donor conceived children, and the large body of
social science evidence showing that children, on average, do
best when raised by their own married mother and father, the
report is calling for a moratorium or “time-out”
on further changes to the institution of parenthood until more
research has been done about those policies and practices that
will best serve the interests of children.
“In law and culture, the new idea is
that children are fine with any one or more adults being called
their parents so long as the appointed parents are nice people.
But how do children feel about the brave new world of parenthood?
Do fathers and mothers matter to children? Does how they feel
matter?” asks the report’s author, Elizabeth Marquardt.
Marquardt is the author of Between
Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce, which
received widespread media attention.
Members of the Commission
on Parenthood's Future, which is releasing the report, include
leading family scholars Steven Nock of the University of Virginia;
Linda Waite of the University of Texas, David Popenoe of the
National Marriage Project at Rutgers; Norval Glenn of the University
of Texas at Austin; and Don Browning, family scholar and professor
emeritus from the University of Chicago. The Commission is sponsored
by two U.S. think tanks, the Institute for American Values and
the Institute for Marriage and
Public Policy, and two Canadian think tanks, the Institute
for the Study of Marriage, Law, and Culture, and Institute
of Marriage and Family Canada.
Among the changes that are redefining the
two-parent, mother-father model of parenthood are:
- Proposals in New Zealand and Australia and by U.S. judges
to allow children conceived with the use of sperm or egg donors
to have three legal parents, without addressing the real possibility
that a child’s three legal parents could “break
up” and feud over the child’s best interests.
- The growing practice of courts in the United States to award
legal parent status to adults who are not related to children
by biology, adoption or marriage (using concepts like “psychological”
or “de facto” parenthood) – at times even
over the objection of the child’s biological parent.
While to date, these decisions have only involved same-sex
couples, this practice could have enormous consequences for
heterosexual couples in step-families who divorce.
- Increasing support from influential legal commissions and
legal scholars in Canada and the U.S. for the legalization
of “group marriage” arrangements such as polygamy
and polyamory, which involves intimate relationships of three
or more people.
- New marriage laws that require the redefinition of parenthood
in ways that make law and culture unable to affirm children’s
real needs for their mother and father. Instead law and culture
can only say children need “two parents.” For
instance, in Massachusetts the State Department of Public
Health proposed changing birth certificates for all children
to read “Parent A” and “Parent B”
rather than “mother” and “father.”
Such changes to birth certificates have already been made
in Spain, where same-sex marriage is legal.
- Scientific research raising the possibility that children
could be born from one parent, two same-sex parents, or three
parents. Headlines recently announced research at leading
universities in Britain and New Zealand that could enable
same-sex couples or single people to procreate. British scientists
have been granted permission to create a human embryo with
three genetic parents, and last year, a team in Scotland created
an embryo without a genetic father. Japanese scientists have
already created a mouse with two genetic mothers and no father.
Of course, there is a very real and urgent
role for the state to assign legal parenthood through adoption.
But the existence of legal adoption was never meant to suggest
that children do not care who their fathers and mothers are,
or to justify the intentional separation of children from biological
fathers and mothers before the children are even conceived.
Do mothers and fathers matter to children?
The debate is upon us.
Available spokespersons for guest appearances
is the author of Between
Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce, published
last fall, which received widespread media coverage and was
excerpted in the Reader’s Digest. She has discussed her
research on the Today Show, the CBS Early Show, CNN,
Fox, PBS, NPR, and numerous other radio and television programs.
Her essays and op-ed pieces have appeared in the New York
Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times,
and elsewhere. She lives near Chicago with her husband and two
KATRINA CLARK has always
known she was the product of an anonymous sperm donor. She recently
found her biological father, though the two have yet to meet.
Katrina is a freshman in college in Washington, D.C.
call Mary Schwarz at 917-526-3115 if you are a member of the
press and would like more information or if you would like to
schedule an interview with Elizabeth Marquardt or Katrina Clark.
Ms. Schwarz can also be emailed at:
maryschwarzataol.com (the @ symbol has been removed to prevent
Commission on Parenthood’s
The author of this report (Elizabeth Marquardt)
is a member of the Commission on Parenthood’s Future.
The Commission is an independent, nonpartisan group of scholars
and leaders who have come together to investigate the status
of parenthood as a legal, ethical, social, and scientific category
in contemporary societies and to make recommendations for the
future. Commission members convene scholarly conferences, produce
books, reports, and public statements, write for popular and
scholarly publications, and engage in public speaking. Members
David Blankenhorn, Institute for American
Don Browning, University of Chicago Divinity School (Emeritus)
Daniel Cere, Institute for the Study of Marriage, Law and Culture
Jean Bethke Elshtain, University of Chicago Divinity School
Maggie Gallagher, Institute for Marriage and Public Policy
Norval Glenn, University of Texas at Austin
Robert P. George, Princeton University
Amy Laura Hall, Duke University
Timothy P. Jackson, Emory University
Kathleen Kovner Kline, University of Colorado Health Services
Anne Manne, author and social commentator (Australia)
Suzy Marta, Rainbows Inc.
Elizabeth Marquardt, Institute for American Values (Principal
Steven Nock, University of Virginia
Mitchell B. Pearlstein, Center of the American Experiment
David Popenoe, Rutgers University
Stephen G. Post, Case Western Reserve University
Dave Quist, Institute of Marriage and Family Canada
Derek Rogusky, Institute of Marriage and Family Canada
Luis Tellez, Witherspoon Institute
Amy Wax, University of Pennsylvania Law School
W. Bradford Wilcox, University of Virginia
John Witte, Jr., Emory University
Peter Wood, The King’s College