Suffer the Children

A lawyer I know was completely exercised the other day about the re-write to Washington’s Parentage Statute. It used to be called the Paternity Statute until it was discovered that men are really no longer necessary to the production of and parenting of children. That change was made about the time the law reacted to artificial insemination and enacted rules that if followed can mean motherhood is redefined as well as fatherhood. Indeed, the new statute does away with archaic terms like “mother” and “father” altogether in favor of the gender neutral “parent”, as if sex had nothing to do with the production of children.

Now the law is reacting to this brave new non-traditional family made available by science. We have previously adopted a concept of Domestic Partnership mainly for same-sex partners, and codified it into law. The law touches now on parentage.  Still titled “Presumption of Paternity in the Context of Marriage” the new statute from this past July goes through the normal presumptions about who is a parent and who is not;  for example a child born during a marriage is presumed to be the child of the married couple, and now that is the same as a couple who are registered Domestic Partners who produce a child.

In section (2) however the statute says this: A person is presumed to be the parent of a child if, for the first two years of
the child’s life, the person resided in the same household with the child and openly held out the child as his or her own.

While the title of the statute implies this is only about marriage, it is now also about Domestic Partnership in section (1). So forgive me for pointing this out, but section 2 doesn’t seem to limit this to domestic partnership or marriage. This means, for example, that five same-sex partners residing in a house together for the first two years of a child’s life holding that child out as their own are presumed parents.

Perhaps this Brave New World has an answer for whose responsibility it is to support this child, whether the child has inheritance rights when one of the five passes, no matter how distant that communal arrangement may have been in time when the partners start to die, or more importantly how to answer this child’s questions when he comes home from school with forms to fill out and with lots of questions about why his family is so different from everyone else at school.

Perhaps those who embarked on this scientific and social experiment will have a nice mug of cocoa for the child and explain to him that it was their hedonistic sense of what they were due in life, regardless of what genes dictated sexual preference to them, that has led to this complexity. I am sure that will be a comfort to him.

Apparently there is no such thing as a “mad scientist” any longer, but may I suggest that label may apply to our legislature, if I am reading this right.

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