Cobb: In marriage and family, equal is equal

BY GUEST COLUMN | MAY 09, 2013 5:00 AM

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“Equal is equal,” Camilla Taylor tells us in Monday’s issue of The Daily Iowan (“Court backs same-sex parents”). Taylor was speaking about the Iowa Supreme Court’s recent decision to list both members of a same-sex couple as “parents” on birth certificates (provided the couple is legally married). This quote is puzzling because the court’s decision doesn’t support equality. Instead, it redefines “parent” to favor same-sex couples.

The Gartners, the DI reports, filed a legal challenge because one of the partners — one not biologically related to the child — would have been forced to legally adopt the child to have her name listed on the child’s birth certificate. This process is both time-intensive and financially onerous. But note that this burden is identical to one that — prior to this decision — every couple must meet. Previously, there were only two ways to be legally considered the parent of a child: to be a biological parent of the child or to legally adopt the child. Now, one partner of a same-sex couple need not meet either standard — she must only be legally married to the child’s biological mother. The court has changed the definition of parent in a way that straight couples cannot enjoy. “Equal is equal,” indeed.

To be fair, there are good reasons not to allow a man to be listed as a child’s father without establishing a biological relationship (via paternity) or a legal relationship (via adoption). One can only imagine the silliness of listing, say, three parents on the birth certificate — the mother, the father, and the mother’s husband — to say nothing of the legal entanglements that might ensue. (Who’s legally responsible for care of the child in the event of divorce or death of the mother? Can both men claim the child?).

But if these reasons are enough to exclude straight individuals from listing themselves as parents without establishing a biological or legal relationship, then it is difficult to see why we should give the partners of gay mothers an exception.

This is especially curious because gay marriage advocates insist that their opponents conflate the religious and legal definitions of marriage. That is, anyone who claims that marriage is between a man and a woman is accused of placing a religious restriction upon a broader legal concept.

The “true” meaning of marriage is simply one of a contract — adding on restrictions about the sex of the partners is creeping religious tyranny. This is a puzzling claim — it means that the true meaning of marriage seems to have only been discovered in the last decade or so — but it perhaps explains the court’s decision. You see, crazy fundies will tell you that one must be a biological parent of a child — or at least legally adopt him — to be considered his “parent.” But the real meaning of “parent” — as the court has kindly pointed out to us — is broader than we thought (so long as one is gay). There is a pure definition of parent hiding in the backward religious idea.

We should thank the court for clearing up such matters of English usage. And if it seems odd to claim this decision promotes equality, well, ask Camilla Taylor — perhaps your definition of “equal” needs to have its religious baggage stripped away before the true meaning of “equal is equal” can shine through.

Ryan Cobb
Ph.D. candidate, UI Department of Philosophy

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