The mother, the father, and the law


In 1915, pioneer filmmaker D.W. Griffith finished a 45-minute movie he called The Mother and the Law, a story of young love and overreaching civil power. A boy and girl meet and fall in love, even though the boy comes from a rough background. After they marry he tries to go straight, but former associates frame him for a crime that sends him to jail. His poor wife struggles to care for their baby, but pious busybodies judge her to be an unfit mother and have the baby placed in an orphanage—for his own best interests, of course.

Griffith was a libertarian, reacting to the social forces that produced Prohibition. The introductory title cards to The Mother and the Law read, “… those who use charity as a cloak for self-glorification, or … for the autocratic purpose of using their power, secured through various foundations, to make laws to suit their own will. Not by drastic laws do we help, but by appeals to reason and conscience.” But reason and conscience meant different things to different people, even back in the “Christian” society of 1915. And more so today.

To some people, California’s SB-1476 is perfectly reasonable. The Uniform Parentage Act states, “A child may have a parent and child relationship with more than two parents.” Proponents claim that the law will prevent a child from being shuttled into foster care when one or two parents are unable to take care of him. The more legal parents there are, supposedly, the more options there are. SB-1476 has passed both the state Senate and the House and is now on Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk. He has until Sept. 30 to sign or veto—or neither, in which case the bill automatically becomes law.

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Only in California, right?

Not really—laws expanding the number of legal parents is an inevitable corollary to same-sex “marriage,” coming to a state near you if conventional wisdom has its way. Biology dictates that a same-sex couple can’t produce a child. In order to parent they must adopt, or, if the appeal of passing on one’s DNA is irresistible, they must arrange for a person of the opposite sex to become involved. Children of such arrangements automatically have three parents, and the possibilities of complicating the life of a child—not to mention crowd an already overloaded court system—are limited only by those three adults’ needs, goals, and whims.

For example, the case that inspired California state Sen. Mark Leno of San Francisco to initiate this bill was In re: M.C., a horrendously tangled process involving a lesbian couple and not one but two men with whom one of the “mothers” had affairs. We’ve seen tangled cases in divorce court already: adults who are so blind to their children’s welfare that a stranger must determine the “best interests of the child.” To advocates of SB-1476, this adjudication is a good thing. “When families go wrong, the law should be there to help pick up the pieces and make the best possible decisions,” wrote one blog commentator.

The law should be there to keep things from breaking—that’s its original purpose. Laws can’t pick up the pieces, much less diaper the baby, teach Julie to ride a bike, sign Jayden’s report card, or make good decisions for the family. Moms and dads are supposed to do that. A law that grants a child three (or more) parents is only opening the door wider for the law to come in and make itself at home.

Janie B. Cheaney
Janie B. Cheaney

Janie lives in Missouri, is a columnist for WORLD, writes novels for young adults, and is the author of the Wordsmith creative writing series. She also reviews books at RedeemedReader.com. Follow Janie on Twitter @jbcheaney.


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