Sign here, whoever you are: California’s birth certificate makeover

On the day when the first wedding bells were ringing for gay marriages in my state, I wrote a post about how the push for “marriage equality” was not the end game for some gay marriage advocates, but rather the beginning of an unraveling of children’s rights on many fronts.  The final paragraph of that post read:

Our new law is the beginning of significant legal challenges to the structure of family, especially as they relate to children. Examples include California’s narrowly defeated “three parents” law, France’s push to erase all references to “mother” and “father” from legal documents, and Quebec’s efforts to stamp out “heterosexism” (the idea that heterosexuality is normal). So while the definition of marriage has been redefined in our state, judging from states/countries that are further down this road, there are many more legal issues that will arise in the future. And if we continue to consider marriage to be primarily about adult emotional fulfillment, or tax benefits, or even the rights of adults, we will give the wrong answers to approaching legal challenges.

It is no surprise that the “three parent” law did eventually make its way into California law; we are talking about California after all. But wait! There is yet more opportunity for us to twist reality. Now, apparently, it is too insensitive to the adults involved in the raising of a child to solely allow the unenlightened terminology of “mother” and “father” to appear on the birth certificate. And that shall soon be remedied by proposed bill AB-1951, if Governor Jerry Brown signs it. This legislation recommends that we add the more sensitive gender-neutral option “parent” when recording the circumstances of a baby’s birth. That way two men or two women can both appear as “parents” on this critical identity document.  One supporter of the bill remarked: “A child’s entry into the world should be celebrated, not marked by discrimination against the diversity of their family.”


Biology can be such bigot.

Birth certificates have served, across centuries and continents, to secure the facts of a child’s identity upon their first moments of life. Every child, without exception, has a beginning, a father, a mother, and a heritage.  The birth certificate documents the details of his/her personhood- time and place or birth, parentage, and identifying characteristics.  Children have a right to this information. Even the UN thinks so.

Heads up here people, I am on the same page with the UN.

As stated in articles 7 and 8 of the UN’s Convention on Children’s Rights, each child shall be “registered immediately after birth” and this “official record” safeguards the child’s “name, nationality, and family ties.”  Birth certificates are critical in securing their rights and identity before social, cultural, or political forces threaten to alter or exploit a child’s identity. Archbishop Desmond Tutu writes: “…it’s a small paper but it actually establishes who you are and gives access to the rights and the privileges, and the obligations, of citizenship.”


All images: Google

The insanity of AB-1951 means that the birth certificates of some kids will not state the facts of their birth. Children will be wittingly denied their birthright by those who are supposed to have the very best interests of that child at heart.  It won’t tell children “who they are,” it will tell them who adults wish them to be- the child of one or two biological strangers.  No required connection to their linage. No opportunity for the 25 year old adult who knows darn well he was not conceived by two women to discover his male parentage. It gives adults the option of state-sanctioned denial of critical aspects of a child’s right to know and have access to his/her origins and biological roots- to their father and mother. Instead their parentage is determined by someone’s intent to parent. In other words; desire-based “facts.”  It is a bill that centers the birth story on the adults’ emotions, and not the child’s truth. It takes us further down the path of children existing for the desire of adults, as opposed to adults orienting their lives around child rights and wellbeing.

My husband and I are listed as Mother and Father on my adopted son’s birth certificate and my heart breaks for him because of it. My sweet son was abandoned within hours of birth. This was followed by an unsuccessful search for his biological parents, 20 months of institutionalization, and the trauma of changing his entire known world. This is also known as a horror show for a sweet child that deserved better. There was no other choice for my boy and it is the only type of situation that warrants having non-biological adults listed as mother and father, and it was a rightly laborious process for us. Someday, when he wants to return to the place of his birth, the closest he will get is the corner of a city square.  He will never know which boxes to check on his “family medical history” forms. He won’t know who he gets his nose from. Can you imagine the devastation you would experience as an adult child seeking your birthparent to find out the information was available but kept from you so that your legal records towed the politically correct line?

Validating the separation of a child from their biological parent(s) by simply checking a box is stealing something irreplaceable from the child. And this bill does exactly that.

Don’t sign it, Governor Brown.


37 thoughts on “Sign here, whoever you are: California’s birth certificate makeover

    • I’ve never heard of the Manson connection, but despite unsubstantiated rumors, Mr. Brown has claimed never to have used illegal drugs. The governor came of age a few years before marijuana smoking became widespread.

  1. Interestingly, the other day we got a wedding invitation that listed not three but four ‘parents’ for the bride. You’ve probably seen a Catholic wedding invitation (in case not, it’s the parents who request the presence to the event, as it’s the parents who give away their children). On the invitation the actual parents were listed first, then a stepfather and a stepmother. I thought it was a very elegant gesture as she obviously felt her step-parents had as much influence in her life as her biological parents.
    As for birth certificates, they should contain the facts. The names of biological parents and of guardians should that be the case.
    Even then, there can be complications. In Catholic Ireland, a father listed on the birth certificate has no right to guardianship of his child unless he is legally married to the mother. He can only become joint-guardian if the mother signs a statutory declaration (SI 5 of 1998). If the mother doesn’t, he has to take the case to court. On the other hand any child born to a marriage is automatically attributed to the couple, even if the child is the result of an affair.
    Spain and France each have their own slightly different interpretations. The guardianship aspect is important because, for example, in France being under the guardianship of a French citizen would allow a foreign child to live in France legally. Spain doesn’t automatically allow that.

    • Thanks for your comments, friend. I think that most kids feel some level of affection for the “biological stranger” that their parents marry. They love their parent, want to support them, and want them to be happy. I love my parents’ partner/spouse because I love my parent. And then over time because we build memories together through shared experience. But children can do without the love of a stranger. They suffer however, without the love of their mother or father.

      Marriage used to serve as a presumption of paternity, which is why in Ireland, without marriage further steps are needed for guardianship. Because, if the mother was married, it follow that the man to whom she was married was almost always the father. Same sex marriage has thrown a bit of a wrench into that reasoning. Because that is how the laws tend to be read: when married the other “mother” is presumed to be the parent. Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse says it better than I:

      “Same-sex “marriage” is not just an attack on a traditional social institution–it’s an attack on the order of nature itself. That was made clear again this week when an Iowa court ruled that a child whose mother was a lesbian “married” to a woman and whose father was an anonymous sperm donor should have both female “spouses” listed on the child’s birth certificate. The ruling was based on a legal principle called “the presumption of paternity,” which historically has stated that when a child is born to a married woman, her husband is presumed to be the father of that child. In other words, the law “presumed” what was almost always true. But in the wake of the Iowa Supreme Court’s legalization of same-sex “marriage” in 2009, Judge Eliza Ovrom has twisted the “presumption of paternity” into a “presumption of parentage.” So what was once a presumption of something that was nearly always biologically true has now become a “presumption” of something that is biologically impossible (since a child cannot have two genetic mothers).”

      This very issue is what led to California’s three parent law. Because of a very short-lived lesbian marriage, the courts sought to award custody of the minor child to the non-related “mother” (truly a stranger to the child) over that of the biological father. If you can keep all the names and “parents” and partners straight, the details can be found here. Again, courtesy of Dr. Morse.

      • Shouldn’t the court award custody to the most capable guardian? The one who acts in the best interest of the child despite blood relation? Being able to have a child biologically is by no means equivalent to being able to care for a child. I think the larger the pool of people who can step in voluntarily, the better.

        • “Shouldn’t the court award custody to the most capable guardian?”

          To do so would be to violate not only the Universal Declaration of Right of the Child, but also the most fundamental principle of family law, that under normal circumstances a child has a right to be taken care of by its biological parents, and that the parents have the right and the responsibility to take care of the child.

          In the absence of mistreatment, there is a strong presumption that the parents know what is best for the child, and that their best judgments will prevail.

          The child’s welfare was not the deciding factor in the cited case, where the completely unrelated “mother” was awarded custody simply because she was the legal parent.

          In a divorce, custody of the child is awarded to the child’s parents. Most commonly, there is a joint custodial arrangement where the child goes back and forth between mother and father. If a woman is going through her second divorce, the stepfather rarely has any legal interest in children from the first marriage. When there is a custody battle, it’s between the mother and the father.

          By parents, we mean the children’s natural mother and father, or adopted parents. Under common law, the husband of a married woman who gives birth is presumed to be the father, and based on what marriage has long been considered to be, this is true in the vast majority of cases. (The “presumption of paternity” is a principle that is far older than reliable genetic testing.)

          An exception is when a child is put up for adoption. Here, there’s a judicial proceeding to insure that such an adoption is indeed in the best interest of the child. Adoption is seen as a less than ideal solution to a tragic situation.

          In order to accept same-sex marriage, at least the “marriage equality” form that seems to be taking over, we have to abandon the age-old and universal belief that biological kinship is important, that mothers and fathers have a special relationship with their children.

          • Violate what? Don’t be ridiculous. There’s no such thing as a perfect world. The declaration of human rights is an idealization rather than a reality- much like the law. The law says rape is illegal and yet rape occurs every single minute around the globe.
            Just ask the author of this blog about the ‘perfect’ world. She’s personally taken upon herself the adoption of a child from the other side of the planet and all of the difficulties and complexities that entailed(s). Legal, cultural, social, financial- and it’s for life, forever. No “I don’t feel like it today”, no “Return to sender.”
            The presumption that biological parentage is ‘ideal’ is simply incorrect. Especially if you go down the social pyramid. I mean is there any doubt whatsoever that Katy & her family are going to be able to offer her youngest (I’m guessing it’s the youngest), a life incomparably better than he would have had otherwise?

            And if in the case mentioned the judge didn’t take any of those real-life factors into account and depended exclusively on a birth certificate, then the judge is a fool.

        • Really? So there is no inherent right to an authentic relationship with one’s biological kin (parent/child, sibling/sibling, grandparent/grandchild) if other guardians who are “more capable” are willing to “step in”? “More capable” in what way? Better educated? Wealthier? Who gets to decide? And under what circumstances is it justifiable to remove a child from his/her biological family? Whenever someone “more capable” is waiting in the wings to care for him/her? I wonder what that sort of world might look like… You mention in another post that Katy and her family are going to offer their adopted child/brother a life “incomparably better than he would have had otherwise” – and I would agree with you. But only because he had already lost his family, and that left him in need of loving parents to raise him. It’s true there’s no such thing as a perfect world. But our laws should reflect an ideal that honors the natural rights of all persons. Like your example of rape – yes, it happens, but does that mean societies shouldn’t bother taking a moral position on the subject through the enactment of statutes against it? And FWIW, as a married Catholic I have to say I feel you were a bit off on your interpretation of the wedding invitation you received. In the Catholic Church, parents do not “give away their children” in marriage. In fact, even the priest or deacon is just a witness to the sacrament that the couple exchange *with each other*. The bride and groom are the ministers of the sacrament – and it is their freely-given exchange of the relevant vows, with the intention of keeping those vows, along with consummation via the marital act that validates the sacrament. It’s true that many Catholics (myself included) will follow the standard cultural practices of etiquette with regard to their wedding invitations, including the inclusion of their parents and their parents’ spouses (as the case may be). But that has no bearing on the meaning of motherhood, fatherhood or marriage within the Church – and I suspect in some (most?) cases it is more of an effort to avoid hurt feelings than a true reflection of the bride’s and/or groom’s feelings toward their parents’ spouses. Particularly when some or all of said parents/spouses are helping to foot the expenses for the wedding (the bulk of which arise from the reception, not the ceremony). In any case, my father walked me down the aisle to my waiting groom – but Dad did not give me away, nor did my husband’s parents give him away. They were included on our invitations as a matter of custom. The Church couldn’t have cared less whether we issued invitations or not.

          • Inherent right? Not really. Legal? Not so much, either. If you study the history of illegitimacy all the way to about fifty years ago, it’s brutal. Including within Catholicism- of which I need no lessons, by the way. I was raised Catholic, went to Catholic school, and live in a country where Catholicism was the law when I was born. Not the moral law, it was civil law- including divorce being outlawed and birth control being illegal.

            Just so you know, in a traditional Catholic wedding, the kind that’s been performed in Europe for many hundreds of years, the groom is walked down the aisle by his mother who stands behind him during the ceremony. Then comes the bride with her father, he salutes the groom and up until the mid 20th century the father lifted his daughter’s veil symbolizing his permission that his daughter be given in marriage. Traditionalists still follow that custom. And traditionally, women also covered their heads in church, but I digress. So thanks so much for your insights on what Catholicism is in Whereveryoulive, USA- but as a historian whose first specialization involved Catholic art and history and who actually worked with and for the Church, I don’t really need personal anecdotal evidence of what you did in your house or how you might not have really liked your step-parents. I’m quite clear on what was done within Catholicism and how and why. Just out of curiosity do you know what ‘unequal marriage’ means in Catholic tradition (pre-1950’s)? I don’t suspect many Americans do.

            As for the law, ideals are nowhere near sufficient for the world to function properly. We don’t just need a law that forbids rape; we need definitions, specifications, details, sentencing guidelines, the determination of aggravating and attenuating circumstances etc. And then we need to know what to do for the victims, how to help them function, how to help them move past it etc.

            In the case of children we need everything we can possibly muster to ensure the best possible life for each and every child. It’s not just about money, or age, or education, or biology. Russia, just Russia, has 650,000 homeless children. I’m guessing many of them would really like to have a birth certificate with the name of anyone who’s willing to take on their care on it.

            I think adoption/guardianship and taking on such an incredible responsibility is one of the most admirable things anyone on this planet can do. Sometimes I feel terribly guilty that despite my relative affluence I don’t have it in me to do what Katy’s done. Sometimes I walk around the house and think, “wow, there’s enough room in this place for another eight people”- and then I shrug and get back to doing whatever it is I have to do. That is partly the reason of how despite our different outlooks I was open to listening to Katy and becoming friends.

            I don’t see the birth certificate as a huge issue. I agree a child should know the names of the biological parents, but if anyone else is willing to undersign as a willing guardian, I don’t see that’s really a problem. In fact, in Catholicism that’s why we had godparents. They were de-facto stand-ins in case something went wrong with the first set. And if nothing went wrong, we knew that at the very least they were the ones supposed to give us the best gifts 😉 And even non-religious me still respects that tradition. As a godparent I know it’s my responsibility to do whatever I can to forward the lives of my godchildren. It’s part of a socio-cultural pact. A positive. If the birth certificate does that for people who didn’t grow up in my culture, is it really a bad thing?

          • When it comes to parenting, biology isn’t everything but it is something precious. Obviously kids need more than a biological connection with a parent to thrive- they need mother and father, security and permanence, nurturing, boundaries, challenge, education, shelter, good food, social connections, routine, and a host of other things. But the movement to say biology is meaningless or minimal is, much of the time, completely self-serving on the part of the parents. When I speak of children having a natural right to their parents I mean that it isn’t something that should be casually removed. Of course there are situations where the biological parent is abusive or negligent. But statistically, a non-biological parent is many times more likely to abuse a child. Biological connection powerfully binds children to parents and vice-versa. Yes, there are times when that connection has been tragically lost and, like the thousands of Russian orphans, those children desperately need to be placed in the care of non-relatives. My concern is that because of the numerous ways that kids experience brokenness these days we are tempted to say “all kinds of crap happens to kids” and use that as a justification to willfully break the bond with a parent or two for the sake of adults having the family they desire. Especially in the area of divorce and third-party reproduction.

            In the post above, I should have done a better job of tying this to adoption in general. Access to parent identity and original birth certificates has been on on-going struggle for many adoptees. Here’s a page that sheds light on that aspect of this issue.

            And of course if you need to do something with those empty rooms of yours, I’m more than willing to bring the Faust clan over for a visit. We’ll keep your dogs entertained and be a captive audience should Mike feel the desire to go all-Shakespearian-monologue on us. You could even teach my brood to iron napkins. 😉

          • LOL.
            P.S. I’m not in favour of 3rd party reproduction; I think considering the state of the world, if someone needs to go through extraordinary means to have children, that effort should be focused on helping a child who’s already here.
            I was looking at the numbers today- appalling across the board.
            Did you know there are 15 million people living in slavery in India? Many are children working as sex slaves. For comparison’s sake L.A. has a population of 13 million.

          • Agreed agreed. I can understand the motivations for those who are infertile desiring a link to their children somehow, because admittedly, taking in a child who has experienced the loss of their parents and possibly institutionalization is daunting and comes with it’s own set of challenges. Again, it’s back to my old refrain: children are entitled to parents, adults are not entitled to children.

            The problem of orphaned/abandoned/homeless children worldwide is completely daunting. I am grateful for those such as my friend Paul who started World Orphans ( an organization dedicated to helping the church around the world care for the orphans in their neighborhood. As for the booming sexual trafficking industry… it wrecks me.

          • Hi Brw. Welcome to asktheBigot. I agree 100% with your assessment: “Katy and her family are going to offer their adopted child/brother a life “incomparably better than he would have had otherwise” – and I would agree with you. But only because he had already lost his family, and that left him in need of loving parents to raise him.”. I’ve written elsewhere about adoption being the best remedy for a tragic situation. But we can’t gloss over the “tragic” part of things. His joining our family came at a high price. I am so grateful he is with us and at the same time I mourn over the lost connection with his heritage and parentage. We will sojourn with him, if he ever has the desire, to search for the missing pieces in his lineage. And until then we’ll rejoice that he landed in our family. Thanks for reading and commenting. Please, don’t be a stranger!

        • Absolutely and resoundingly NO!!! Every piece of social science research shows that children who do not know their biological parents have TERRIBLE adjustment problems. Also, the document is called a BIRTH certificate for a reason. You cannot negotiate a child’s rights away like that. It objectively puts them at greater risk for psychological harm. We’ve known this in the foster care system for years. Taking kids from an abusive home and putting them in foster care is far more damaging to them in the long run than leaving them in that abusive home. It is a horrible truth, but there is something so basic and instinctive in a child to know his/her parents, that even abuse (to a certain limit of course) is even better.

          Also, the purpose of the birth certificate It is to document the child’s birth and those brought that birth into existence. To redefine that is to make it something else – it is not a birth certificate any longer. It becomes a certificate of ownership – like they use to issue to slave owners.

  2. Good post. Children really are entitled to access to the biological truth of their birth. It should be a basic human right. I’ve watched the struggles and suffering of some adult children who were adopted and are desperately seeking some biological facts about where they came from. If you think about it, it’s often one of the first questions kids have, where did I come from?

    • Hello friend. Thanks for the comment. On each of my children’s birthdays, we tell the story of their births. This is the first year where my youngest, adopted, really understood what was being recounted. Yes, they are all fascinated by how they came to be and the details around their entrance into the world. There is such tragedy in my fourth child’s story. We of course emphasize how God hand-picked him for our family and the glorious way that we were united with him, but those early days, months and fist year- ugh. It hard for me to even write about it here without tearing up. Sweet child.

  3. Oh God. You’re really reaching on this one. Christian high horse fail. Again, you’ll be the one stressing poor adopted kids or IVF kids out by dwelling on this instead of who raised them, who cared for them, who parented them. So many closed adoptions and sperm donator names are already not on a child’s BC anyways, but forcing the language and reminding everyone of how you think it needs to be makes you feel better I guess. The same parents who would already be on it anyways regardless of the language will still be on it. If this is what Frau was supposed to be editing, her time was probably better spent having fun on Facebook. Love ya even though you’re grasping at straws.

    • PS Sorry I probably was confusing about IVF. I meant IVF done with a donor sperm for lesbian couples. That’s what my very close friends are doing now… making the 3rd kid with the same donor, they trade off being bio mom.

          • I want to know why they each want a turn being the birth mother. Likely because having a biological connection with your baby is a unique, privileged and irreplaceable experience for the mother and child. That they both want to participate in that amazing mark of femininity only drives home the point that biological connections matter to both parents and children. That they each see carrying their child as valuable and precious… kinda proves my point.

    • Every reputable bit of social science research indicates that kids who don’t know their biological parents have terrible long term adjustment problems. End of debate. You are objective, scientifically, WRONG. It is the right of a child to know their parents. Folks like you would have tried to take that right away from me – it was my right. No one can take that away from me. Curse the person who would do that to a child.

  4. I’m sorry, but in all honesty you are way off. As a mother by birth and by adoption, I can tell you that these questions arise whether or not anyone is “stressing kids out” with the fundamental facts of biology. Our four-year-old, who was adopted, is already asking questions about her origins. Nobody has “stressed her out” by putting these thoughts in her head. There is a real, tangible loss involved in adoption and third-party reproduction, and people have a hell of a nerve manipulating children into existence with the intention of denying them an authentic parent/child relationship with one or both of their biological parents. Our daughter’s adoption is a result of her biological parents’ inability (or perhaps unwillingness) to care for her special needs. But we entered her life when *her need* for a family made it necessary and beneficial *for her*. The joy we have in raising her is far from the primary consideration in the ethics of her adoption.

    Generations of adoptees were told their origins did not matter, to focus instead on the families they have and be grateful. Fortunately, most of us who adopt these days know better. In the long run, I think our daughter will “turn out” just fine. But that would not justify the purposeful loss of her family of origin just so that we could have another child. A child is a gift, not a right.

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  6. Birth certificate is a legal document which specifies who is/are legal parents of the child. It’s not concerned about any biological links. It’s been for long time that bio parents were getting the legal rights by default. But it’s not the case anymore for many reasons: IVF, surrogacy, sperm/egg/zygote donation.

    DNA is overrated. Love trumps blood all the time. Your concern trolling (look it up) doesn’t make it necessary to put DNA sources on the birth certificate.

    • “DNA is overrated. Love trumps blood all the time”

      Except when it comes to genetically inherited diseases, tissue matches, receiving blood. Also when it comes to marriage, reproduction, who you choose to have a child with. We’re already having some trouble with sperm donors because people grow up, get married, and realize they’re married to a genetic relative, which then increases the risk of birth defects.

      So, love conquers all, but to suggest that DNA isn’t important is a bit silly.

      • >We’re already having some trouble with sperm donors

        Same happens with children fathered out of wedlock, as a result of affair. I haven’t heard anybody proposing to put bio fathers on the birth certificate in such cases.

    • Wrong – it documents the birth of the child and the individuals who brought about that birth. Do you honestly think a mother who died in birth would not be on the certificate because she is no longer a “legal parent?!?” Or a father who died before the birth of a child?!? Come on – that is patently absurd.

  7. Just remembered one other thing that makes this proposed law and anyone who would support it foolish. The other purpose of the birth certificate is to track family genetics for the purpose of the child’s medical history. That was one of the many things the research on adjustment problems for IVF kids showed they suffered so much – because they would get illnesses and they had no idea if it was something handed down to them or not. Picking the proper treatment was often dependent on this and the kids would be left in the dark. This bill is such a dumb idea on so many scientific levels it is mind boggling. The anti-science left is at it again.

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