Surrogate twins’ father gets go-ahead for paternity test

By Tomer Zarchin – May 18, 2010

www.haaretz.com – There are no legal obstacles to a paternity test that would establish whether Dan Goldberg is indeed the father of twins Itai and Liron, the Jerusalem District Attorney’s office informed Family Court judge Philip Marcus yesterday. The statement came in response to a request by Marcus for the district attorney and the twins’ court-appointed guardian to clarify their position on the test.

The District Attorney’s office told Marcus there is no obstacle to issuing a court order for the test, which would allow the twins to receive Israeli citizenship and enter Israel, even without a special court hearing on the matter. The order would be subject to the twins’ guardian’s agreement. The guardian has not yet stated his position on the test.

The twins were born to Goldberg and a surrogate mother in India. In March, Marcus rejected Goldberg’s request for a paternity test, claiming he lacked the authority to order one. Goldberg appealed to the Jerusalem District Court against the decision. The District Court upheld the appeal, returning the case to Marcus to be reconsidered once the twins have been appointed a legal guardian.

Meanwhile, the Rainbow Families group – an umbrella organization for gay families – held a demonstration in support of Goldberg in Tel Aviv yesterday. The demonstrators called upon Interior Minister Eli Yishai to allow the twins to come to Israel.

Inside the gay baby boom

Salon.com, Monday May 17, 2010

The author of a new memoir talks about the odd dynamics of lesbian motherhood and how it’s changing our culture .

America’s got a bad case of gayby fever. In the past few years, we’ve been subjected to countless trend pieces about the growth of gay parenting and its remaking of the American family. Censuses have shown a dramatic increase in the number of gays and lesbians living with children, and, most recently, high-profile gay celebrities, like Ricky Martin and Clay Aiken, have adopted children of their own. Of course, gay parents have been around as long as there have been gay people, but their recent prominence (see: the upcoming “The Kids Are All Right,” the “gayby” neologism, “Modern Family”) suggests that a new cultural moment is afoot.

Amie Klempnauer Miller’s delightful new memoir, “She Looks Just Like You,” offers an engrossing, funny and eminently readable new take on the subject of gay parenthood. The book tells the story of how Miller and her long-term partner, Jane, came to the decision to become pregnant (having the “lesbian love of process” they went on a retreat to discuss the subject), their failed attempts at insemination (after Amie proved unable to get pregnant, Jane carried the child) and the stress of their daughter’s early years. Along the way Miller plumbs the meaning of her strange new identity — non-biological lesbian mother — and the ways it challenges our conventional ideas about motherhood, fatherhood and the American family.

Salon spoke to Miller over the phone about “The Kids Are All Right,” reasons behind the gayby boom and why we’re so afraid of gay dads.

In the book you say that “unconventional parents” are becoming more common in America. What do you mean by that?

I was referring to the growing number of lesbian and gay parents. Non-biological lesbian moms, like gay fathers who use surrogates, we’re in this weird zone between motherhood and fatherhood.

How is that?

I had tried to get pregnant, but, in the end, it was my partner who carried the baby, and I found myself going, “Wow, so what’s my role here?” I was planning on taking maternity leave, but I wasn’t pregnant. I was there for the conception, and I was there for the ultrasound but I wasn’t going to get to do these things, like childbirth, that are so paradigmatic of what it means to be a mother.

The parents I ended up relating to the most were stay-at-home dads because they are bending the genre categories themselves. It’s interesting that some of the criticisms that have been made toward stay-at-home dads are not that different from the criticisms of gay and lesbian families. Is it natural? Will the kids turn out OK?

It seems like gay parenthood has suddenly become very visible in popular culture. What’s behind this gayby boom?

There has been a rise of the celebrity gayby, but it’s really about more gay men and lesbians having children and becoming more visible. My sense is that it’s because the first generation of children of gay and lesbian parents have come into their mid-20s. It’s no longer that bizarre to know somebody who has gay and lesbian parents, or a gay and lesbian person with a child. And the numbers are going up. According to the census there are about 270,000 kids with gay and lesbian parents, but every census the numbers jump up. And as the numbers increase, so does the visibility.

More broadly, medical technology has become much more available and much more available to single women. Back in the day you had to have your husband approve it. In the past 25-30 years, there’s also been a lot research done on the outcomes for children of gay and lesbian parents. Most of that has focused on kids of lesbians, and the research has shown that the kids are turning out fine.

Straight parents don’t have the problem with terminology that gay parents have. What did you end up calling yourselves?

Jane is “mommy.” I’m “mama.” I like “mama” in particular because I never used it for my own mother, and it’s recognized by the outside world as a real word for mother. Hannah discovered when she was about 4 or 5 that other people are still very confused by this, so to people in the outside world she’ll often refer to us as Amy and Jane. I’d been warned by other people, “What are you going to call yourselves?” “It’s so confusing, you’d better not have a kid!” It’s funny how when we have names for something, it becomes more real.

For a long time, gay culture was defined by the fact that, since so many of us were rejected by our biological parents, we created these non-traditional families for ourselves. The gay parenting boom seems like a move back from this idea of a gay community toward a very traditional idea of family.

In some ways it probably is. I think fundamentally the big change that’s been happening is that gay and lesbian people are seeing the full range of choices open to them. Not that long ago, we would have assumed we couldn’t get married or assumed we couldn’t have a lasting relationship or we couldn’t have children. People are now not making those assumptions at all.

A lot of people have this expectation that gay parents would pressure their kid to be gay. To be completely honest, if I had a daughter at this point, part of me would wish that she’d end up being gay.

I don’t think we’ve in any way tried to form Hannah into a budding heterosexual or a budding homosexual. But I think our goal has really been to help her understand at this point — she’s just 7 — that there are lot of different kinds of families. There are people who have two moms, and families that have two dads, and families with one mom and one dad. She knows kids who have been adopted by a single mom. There’s a whole gamut, and she can see these things as a part of daily life.

As the non-biological mother you had to go through a complicated legal process to adopt Hannah. What was that like?

The legal process is all based on where you live. There are a minority of states that will say statewide that same-sex parents can do a second-parent adoption. Even in Minnesota we don’t have it statewide — it’s county by county, and then it’s judge by judge. Before Hannah was born we met with a lawyer and had affidavits drawn up, saying we our parents support my adopting Hannah. We had to prove that there’s not a father out there that’s going to make a claim on her. We asked the court to waive the requirement that Jane would terminate her parental rights.

But some courts will require a home study [where your home is evaluated by a social worker]. In places where you can’t have a second-parent adoption, the parent and child are very vulnerable. You can’t carry unrelated children on your insurance; inheritance-wise, they don’t have claims on your estate; you don’t have the legal authority to make medical decisions, and if there’s a breakup or death, you don’t have custody rights. There are 16 states now that say, statewide, you can have a second parent adoption. There are a few states like Minnesota where some counties approve it and some do not, and then there are lots of states where you can’t do it at all.

In the last few years there’s been an awful lot of attention paid to gay marriage, but not much talk about gay parenting rights. Does that bother you?

In some respects they’re tied together. The ideal situation would be for the laws to protect gay and lesbian couples with children in the same way they protect heterosexual couples and heterosexual couples with children. If you rely only on marriage extending the rights, there are always going to be some people who have families but for whatever set of reasons don’t fit into the marriage paradigm. The best situation would be for the laws to be set up so the parents and the kids would be protected — and be able to provide medical care for each other — whether they’re married or not.

This summer’s “The Kids Are All Right,” which stars Julianne Moore and Annette Bening as a lesbian couple, has a good chance of being the first big movie about gay parenting to be a mainstream hit. Do you think the idea of lesbian parents is still more culturally acceptable than the idea of two gay men raising a child?

I think it’s important to say that 20 percent of gay male couples now have at least one kid. That’s huge and a pretty recent phenomenon, but I think there is more openness toward lesbian parents. I think it mirrors the cultural feelings about mothers and fathers. There’s a kind of old-fashioned sense that women are just more inclined toward being able to have and raise children than are men. I’ve certainly encountered hetero women saying it would be so great to have two mothers because they think we keep the house so much cleaner.

There’s also a history of gay men being more sexualized. There’s this idea that if two gay men have a child there must be something sordid going on, which is obviously not the case.

Has your daughter, Hannah, encountered any teasing at school?

She’s gotten some stuff from another kid in kindergarten who was like, “That’s so weird,” but she’s not the only one with a nontraditional family. She goes to school with kids who live with guardians or were adopted by a single mom. At this point, the fact that there are so many different kinds of families helps us be just one of them.

Portugal’s Gay Marriage Law Excludes Adoption

By Carlos Santoscoy
Published: May 18, 2010Portugal’s gay marriage law specifically forbids married gay and lesbian couples from adopting children.

On Monday, Portugal’s President Anibal Cavaco Silva announced he would ratify the gay marriage bill approved by lawmakers in January, making Portugal the sixth European nation to grant gay couples the right to marry.

The president lamented his decision, saying he was only doing so because Social Democrats – led by Prime Minister Jose Socrates – were certain to overturn his veto.

“Given that fact, I feel I should not contribute to a pointless extension of this debate, which would only serve to deepen the divisions between the Portuguese and divert the attention of politicians away from the grave problems affecting us.”

“There are moments in the life of a country when ethical responsibility has to be placed above one’s personal convictions,” he added.

Cavaco Silva, however, might have decided differently if the law allowed gay adoption. Earlier, the president attempted to derail the law by forwarding four out of five of the bill’s articles to the nation’s Constitutional Court. He said he did so because he doubted the bill’s constitutionality. But he set aside the article that bans gay adoption, a clear signal he wanted to ensure it remained in the final legislation should the court vote in favor of the bill. The court’s major found the bill to be constitutional.

The seventy-year-old president announce his decision in a nationally televised address.

“We feel that we’re experiencing a memorable, emotional moment,” Vitalinos Canas, a Socialist government MP, told Euronews. “It’s a huge step for civilization, taken by our country.”

The president’s signature comes just days after Pope Benedict toured the Roman Catholic stronghold of Portugal. Speaking in the city of Fatima, the pope called for a greater defense of what he said were “essential and primary values of life,” among which he included the family. He said the family was “founded on indissoluble marriage between man and woman.”

Abortion – legal in Portugal since 2007 – and gay marriage were “among some of the most insidious and dangerous challenges facing the common good today.”

The pope has taken a similar hard line in neighboring Spain, where Socialists legalized gay marriage in 2005.

Social conservatives in Mexico have denounced a gay marriage law approved by Mexico City lawmakers because it lifted a previous ban on gay adoption. The federal government has appealed to the nation’s Supreme Court, saying it has a responsibility to protect children. In Argentina, a gay marriage bill that includes the right to adopt has won the approval of the country’s lower chamber of Congress, but faces an uncertain future as debate begins in the Senate.

In both countries, adoption by gay and lesbian couples has stirred the most controversy.

Gay marriage is also legal in five European countries: Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, Norway and, most recently, Sweden.

Iceland is also considering legalizing gay marriage.

Lesbian Couple Sue Iowa Officials Over Birth Certificate

Advocate.com May 15, 2010
By Advocate.com Editors

A lesbian couple are suing Iowa state officials for printing on their daughter’s birth certificate that she has only one parent and was born out of wedlock.

Heather Lynn Martin Gartner, 38, and Melissa McCoy Gartner, 39, filed suit against two state health department officials on behalf of their daughter Mackenzie, who was born in September, because her birth certificate lists only Heather as the mother.

The Iowa Department of Public Health rejected the couple’s request for a birth certificate with both their names in March, according to the lawsuit, claiming Melissa had not legally adopted Mackenzie and was not biologically related.

Though same-sex marriage is legal in Iowa, birth certificate laws “expressly recognize the biological reality that women and men each play a distinct but equally necessary role in human reproduction and have corresponding rights, duties and obligations to their child,” according to the Department of Health letter cited in the lawsuit.

Archdiocese Of Boston Welcomes Children Of Gay Parents In Schools

By G. Jeffrey MacDonald
Religion News Service

(RNS) The Archdiocese of Boston says that children of same-sex couples are welcome in its schools, after a local school rejected a student with lesbian parents.

Superintendent of Catholic Schools Mary Grassa O’Neill said the archdiocese will develop a policy to eliminate any misunderstandings about its openness to children of gay parents.

“We believe that every parent who wishes to send their child to a Catholic school should have the opportunity to pursue that dream,” O’Neill said in a statement released Thursday (May 13).

Press reports earlier this week quoted an anonymous woman who said administrators at St. Paul Elementary School in Hingham, Mass., had denied admission to her 8-year-old son because his parents’ relationship was “in discord with the teachings of the Catholic church.”

O’Neill said she spoke Thursday with the Rev. James Rafferty and principal Cynthia Duggan, who oversee St. Paul Elementary School, about their decision. She then contacted one of the child’s parents, who according to O’Neill indicated that she would consider sending her son to a different Catholic school in the upcoming school year.

Whether to enroll schoolchildren of same-sex parents is a matter of some debate among the nation’s Catholic dioceses. The Sacred Heart of Jesus School in Boulder, Colo. refused to re-enroll a child after they learned the child has same-sex parents last winter. The Archdiocese of Denver supported their decision.
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“Parents living in open discord with Catholic teaching in areas of faith and morals unfortunately choose by their actions to disqualify their children from enrollment,” said a March statement from the Archdiocese of Denver.

Gay rights advocates applauded the Boston archdiocese’s policy announcement.

“We agree 100 percent with that decision” to welcome children of same-sex couples in Catholic schools, said Pam Garramone, executive director of Greater Boston PFLAG, a gay rights education and advocacy group.

CNN Does Gay Surrogacy in “Gary & Tony Have a Baby”

Kevin and Scotty are doing it on Brothers & Sisters while Ricky Martin did it in real life. Now CNN anchor Soledad O’Brien is doing an In America documentary on the phenomenon of gay men having babies via surrogacy.

Titled Gary & Tony Have a Baby and airing in June, the two-hour special follows Gary and Tony, two life-long gay activists, on their quest to have a biological child of their own. A statement from CNN describes the special this way: Unable to legally marry in the U.S., [Gary and Tony] travel to Canada, get married, and spend thousands on an arduous journey toward parenthood via surrogacy and in vitro fertilization. … Though Gary and Tony had hoped for a happy extended family, they discover instead ambivalence about same-sex marriage. With court battles, and struggles against their hometown community – can these men achieve a life as mainstream as their parents?

Both curious to learn a little more the special, as well as a little leery given CNN’s last look at a gay topic, AfterElton.com spoke with O’Brien to get more details.

AfterElton.com: How did the special come to be?
Soledad O’Brien:
For In America, I’m very interested in telling stories that don’t get a lot of play, and don’t get told very often. That fly a little bit under the radar. I was noticing at my daughter’s school and in the places around the city, the number of male couples having children. I was interested and noticed a trend. Then I ran into a couple my producer knew well who were thinking of having a baby. I thought it would be very interesting to follow the process financially of finding a donor, and the emotional processes and psychological journey. In some ways, the most radical thing to do [for a gay couple] is to circle around and have a bigger family unit.

AE: What more can you tell me about Gary and Tony?
SO:
They’ve been together for twenty years. They are two guys who have described themselves by saying they grew up when they found each other and they transitioned from young men to grownups together. Their marriage was in Canada in 2005 and while they were happy with that, they eventually decided that they really wanted to have a baby. They loved each other so much that they decided the next natural step was to become a bigger family.

AE: What’s the structure of the special?
SO:
We tell the story of how they come to this place. We go with them every step of the way as the implantation happens, as they are navigating all the drama that comes along with having a surrogate. There is a lot of legal maneuvering. By the time we meet them they have the egg donor and surrogate.

AE: The description of the show referred to the guys having problems with their community and encountering “ambivalence.” Can you elaborate?
SO:
What has been interesting to watch is that the process isn’t always about you, but is sometimes about your family. Not so much what will your family members think, but what will their friends think? What will the surrogate’s friends think? In Gary’s home town [in central Pennsylvania], the church was very uncomfortable with him.They talked about the evil that is homosexuality.

How is that going to make them feel? For our purposes, what it spurs in their head is really interesting. It takes them back to their childhood, back to not being accepted as a gay kid.

AE: Is this just their story or is “the other side” represented here?
SO:
We tell their story very organically. They are activists and there are times when their activism brings them into contact with those that oppose them and we show that. But we don’t go out and solicit opinions from those against gay parents.

No Bar to U.S. Adoptions From Russia

May 5, 2010 – New york Times – by CLIFFORD J. LEVY

 

MOSCOW — After nearly a month of contradictory signals, a senior Russian official is now making clear that the government has not halted the adoption of Russian children by Americans.

The official, Andrei A. Fursenko, the education and science minister, whose agency oversees adoptions, said Tuesday night that the Russian government had not formally put in place a legal suspension of these adoptions.

Mr. Fursenko appeared to contradict the assertions of Russian foreign ministry officials, who said last month that there would be no adoptions until the United States and Russia reached an agreement on new regulations. But Mr. Fursenko’s comments would appear to carry more weight because of his agency’s role in the adoption process.

The Russian government had insisted on new adoption rules in response to the case of Artyom Savelyev, who was sent backto Moscow on his own last month, just before his eighth birthday, by his adoptive mother in Tennessee.

The mother said that the boy, Artyom, had severe behavioral difficulties and that the Russian orphanage had lied to her about his condition when she adopted him last year. Russian officials said there was nothing wrong with him.

His plight caused an outcry in Russia, and top Russian officials, including President Dmitri A. Medvedev, spoke out about the need for new regulations.

The State Department said last week that it had never received formal notification from the Russian government that adoptions were frozen. American officials in Washington and Moscow said this week that adoptions were continuing, though some Russian officials may be slowing down procedures because they are unsure about their government’s stance.

Mr. Fursenko indicated that neither his agency nor the foreign ministry had the authority to halt adoptions by Americans.

“A suspension of adoptions is possible only by a law of the Parliament or by an act of the president,” he told reporters, pointing out that neither had addressed the issue.

Mr. Fursenko’s comments should end the confusion over Russian adoption policy and offer some solace to American families who are in the middle of the process, which can be time-consuming, costly and emotionally difficult.

An American diplomatic delegation was recently in Moscow to negotiate a new adoption agreement, and both sides said they hoped to have one signed relatively soon. Russian officials were said to want assurances that there would be more independent monitoring of Russian children after they have begun living in the United States.

Russia was the third leading source of adoptive children in the United States in 2009, with 1,586, after China and Ethiopia, officials said.

More than 50,000 Russian children have been adopted by United States citizens since 1991. The adoption rate peaked at 6,000 in 2003, and then declined as bureaucratic and legal hurdles mounted.

While most adoptions turn out well, cases where adoptive Russian children have been harmed or killed in the United States have drawn widespread attention in Russia. Russian officials said that of the 18 Russian adoptive children who have been killed abroad since the Soviet collapse in 1991, 17 were in the United States.

Mr. Fursenko noted that he was just in Washington, where he discussed the overall adoption issue with Russia’s ambassador there, Sergey I. Kislyak.

“Recently, the ambassador had a gathering in the embassy for adoptive children and their parents,” Mr. Fursenko said. “He said that these are happy families. Moreover, a significant number of these children are sick. They found normal families. The parents emphasize that the children are Russian, which is why they brought them to the Russian Embassy, to show that even though they now live here, their roots are Russian.”

Mr. Fursenko said Mr. Kislyak believed that it would be a mistake to ban Americans from adopting Russian children.

“This is in the interests of the child,” Mr. Fursenko said. “This should never be used to manipulate.”

He added that while there have been instances of Russian children being adopted by “inadequate” families abroad, there have been more in Russia itself.

N.Y. Court Expands Rights of Nonbirth Parents in Same-Sex Relationships

May 4, 2010 – New York Times – By JEREMY W. PETERS

ALBANY — New York State’s highest court somewhat expanded the rights of gay and lesbian parents on Tuesday in a narrow ruling that said nonbiological parents in same-sex relationships should be treated the same as biological parents.

But the high court, the Court of Appeals, declined to resolve two cases involving lesbian parents and instead sent both back to lower courts, saying that the question of whether nonbiological parents should be given full parental rights was up to the State Legislature.

In one case, the court found that a lesbian who had given birth while in a committed relationship was entitled to seek child support in Family Court from her former partner. The ruling was 4 to 3.

In the other case, which legal experts said had broader implications, the court ruled that a woman seeking visitation rights from her former partner, who gave birth to a child conceived by artificial insemination after the two had entered into a civil union in Vermont, was a legal parent of that child.

The decision, by a 7-to-0 vote, said the woman, identified in court documents as Debra H., could ask a court for visitation and custody rights because New York confers parental rights to both parents in a same-sex relationship if the couple has a civil union.

Though the court did not specifically address the parental rights of gays and lesbians who are not birth parents but have other legally sanctioned unions, like a marriage performed in a jurisdiction that allows same-sex couples to wed, the case provides them a legal claim to parenthood.

“In many ways this is a real breakthrough in New York,” said Susan L. Sommer, who argued the case before the Court of Appeals and is senior counsel and director of constitutional litigation for Lambda Legal, a gay-rights advocacy group.

“But there’s also a lot more work that needs to be done, because the decision stops short of bringing New York into line with the growing trend in other jurisdictions,” Ms. Sommer added.

Some legal experts said they were dismayed by the ruling because it effectively established two sets of standards for children of same-sex couples: one set for those born to couples with a legally recognized relationship, and another for those born to couples without legal recognition.

“A distinction between whether one is a parent or is not a parent based on whether a couple is in a civil union or not in a civil union — that should not matter,” said Nancy Polikoff, a law professor at American University. “From the child’s point of view, he or she has two parents.”

The court declined to establish criteria for parenthood in relationships in which one partner or spouse is not the biological parent, saying a more flexible standard could invite claims of parental rights by people who have no business raising them.

“Parents could not possibly know when another adult’s level of involvement in family life might reach the tipping point and jeopardize their right to bring up their children without the unwanted participation of a third party,” Judge Susan P. Read wrote in the opinion.

Other jurisdictions have amended their laws to grant nonbiological parents broad legal rights. Colorado, Indiana, Minnesota, Texas and the District of Columbia have all established criteria under which people other than biological parents can claim to have parental rights.

The Court of Appeals said nothing prevented the Legislature from following that lead.

Sherri L. Eisenpress, the lawyer for the biological mother involved in the case stemming from the Vermont civil union, who is identified only as Janice R., said the case was never about broader issues. Instead, Ms. Eisenpress said it was about following established family law in New York, which states that anyone who is not a biological or adoptive parent lacks standing to seek custody or visitation rights.

“Her goal in this case was never to establish some precedent or to make any broader statement other than that she expressly declined to allow this woman to adopt her son because she did not want to co-parent with this person,” Ms. Eisenpress said.

Though the case presents a twist on the traditional American family, in one sense it is conventional. Explaining why she entered into a civil union, Janice R., according to the decision, said, “to put an end to (Debra H.’s) nagging.”

Moral Life of Babies

May 3, 2010 – New York Times Magazine  – By PAUL BLOOM

Not long ago, a team of researchers watched a 1-year-old boy take justice into his own hands. The boy had just seen a puppet show in which one puppet played with a ball while interacting with two other puppets. The center puppet would slide the ball to the puppet on the right, who would pass it back. And the center puppet would slide the ball to the puppet on the left . . . who would run away with it. Then the two puppets on the ends were brought down from the stage and set before the toddler. Each was placed next to a pile of treats. At this point, the toddler was asked to take a treat away from one puppet. Like most children in this situation, the boy took it from the pile of the “naughty” one. But this punishment wasn’t enough — he then leaned over and smacked the puppet in the head.

This incident occurred in one of several psychology studies that I have been involved with at the Infant Cognition Center at Yale University in collaboration with my colleague (and wife), Karen Wynn, who runs the lab, and a graduate student, Kiley Hamlin, who is the lead author of the studies. We are one of a handful of research teams around the world exploring the moral life of babies.

Like many scientists and humanists, I have long been fascinated by the capacities and inclinations of babies and children. The mental life of young humans not only is an interesting topic in its own right; it also raises — and can help answer — fundamental questions of philosophy and psychology, including how biological evolution and cultural experience conspire to shape human nature. In graduate school, I studied early language development and later moved on to fairly traditional topics in cognitive development, like how we come to understand the minds of other people — what they know, want and experience.

But the current work I’m involved in, on baby morality, might seem like a perverse and misguided next step. Why would anyone even entertain the thought of babies as moral beings? From Sigmund Freud to Jean Piaget to Lawrence Kohlberg, psychologists have long argued that we begin life as amoral animals. One important task of society, particularly of parents, is to turn babies into civilized beings — social creatures who can experience empathy, guilt and shame; who can override selfish impulses in the name of higher principles; and who will respond with outrage to unfairness and injustice. Many parents and educators would endorse a view of infants and toddlers close to that of a recent Onion headline: “New Study Reveals Most Children Unrepentant Sociopaths.” If children enter the world already equipped with moral notions, why is it that we have to work so hard to humanize them?

A growing body of evidence, though, suggests that humans do have a rudimentary moral sense from the very start of life. With the help of well-designed experiments, you can see glimmers of moral thought, moral judgment and moral feeling even in the first year of life. Some sense of good and evil seems to be bred in the bone. Which is not to say that parents are wrong to concern themselves with moral development or that their interactions with their children are a waste of time. Socialization is critically important. But this is not because babies and young children lack a sense of right and wrong; it’s because the sense of right and wrong that they naturally possess diverges in important ways from what we adults would want it to be.

Smart Babies
Babies seem spastic in their actions, undisciplined in their attention. In 1762, Jean-Jacques Rousseau called the baby “a perfect idiot,” and in 1890 William James famously described a baby’s mental life as “one great blooming, buzzing confusion.” A sympathetic parent might see the spark of consciousness in a baby’s large eyes and eagerly accept the popular claim that babies are wonderful learners, but it is hard to avoid the impression that they begin as ignorant as bread loaves. Many developmental psychologists will tell you that the ignorance of human babies extends well into childhood. For many years the conventional view was that young humans take a surprisingly long time to learn basic facts about the physical world (like that objects continue to exist once they are out of sight) and basic facts about people (like that they have beliefs and desires and goals) — let alone how long it takes them to learn about morality.

I am admittedly biased, but I think one of the great discoveries in modern psychology is that this view of babies is mistaken.

A reason this view has persisted is that, for many years, scientists weren’t sure how to go about studying the mental life of babies. It’s a challenge to study the cognitive abilities of any creature that lacks language, but human babies present an additional difficulty, because, even compared to rats or birds, they are behaviorally limited: they can’t run mazes or peck at levers. In the 1980s, however, psychologists interested in exploring how much babies know began making use of one of the few behaviors that young babies can control: the movement of their eyes. The eyes are a window to the baby’s soul. As adults do, when babies see something that they find interesting or surprising, they tend to look at it longer than they would at something they find uninteresting or expected. And when given a choice between two things to look at, babies usually opt to look at the more pleasing thing. You can use “looking time,” then, as a rough but reliable proxy for what captures babies’ attention: what babies are surprised by or what babies like.

The studies in the 1980s that made use of this methodology were able to discover surprising things about what babies know about the nature and workings of physical objects — a baby’s “naïve physics.” Psychologists — most notably Elizabeth Spelke and Renée Baillargeon — conducted studies that essentially involved showing babies magic tricks, events that seemed to violate some law of the universe: you remove the supports from beneath a block and it floats in midair, unsupported; an object disappears and then reappears in another location; a box is placed behind a screen, the screen falls backward into empty space. Like adults, babies tend to linger on such scenes — they look longer at them than at scenes that are identical in all regards except that they don’t violate physical laws. This suggests that babies have expectations about how objects should behave. A vast body of research now suggests that — contrary to what was taught for decades to legions of psychology undergraduates — babies think of objects largely as adults do, as connected masses that move as units, that are solid and subject to gravity and that move in continuous paths through space and time.

Other studies, starting with a 1992 paper by my wife, Karen, have found that babies can do rudimentary math with objects. The demonstration is simple. Show a baby an empty stage. Raise a screen to obscure part of the stage. In view of the baby, put a Mickey Mouse doll behind the screen. Then put another Mickey Mouse doll behind the screen. Now drop the screen. Adults expect two dolls — and so do 5-month-olds: if the screen drops to reveal one or three dolls, the babies look longer, in surprise, than they do if the screen drops to reveal two.

A second wave of studies used looking-time methods to explore what babies know about the minds of others — a baby’s “naïve psychology.” Psychologists had known for a while that even the youngest of babies treat people different from inanimate objects. Babies like to look at faces; they mimic them, they smile at them. They expect engagement: if a moving object becomes still, they merely lose interest; if a person’s face becomes still, however, they become distressed.

But the new studies found that babies have an actual understanding of mental life: they have some grasp of how people think and why they act as they do. The studies showed that, though babies expect inanimate objects to move as the result of push-pull interactions, they expect people to move rationally in accordance with their beliefs and desires: babies show surprise when someone takes a roundabout path to something he wants. They expect someone who reaches for an object to reach for the same object later, even if its location has changed. And well before their 2nd birthdays, babies are sharp enough to know that other people can have false beliefs. The psychologists Kristine Onishi and Renée Baillargeon have found that 15-month-olds expect that if a person sees an object in one box, and then the object is moved to another box when the person isn’t looking, the person will later reach into the box where he first saw the object, not the box where it actually is. That is, toddlers have a mental model not merely of the world but of the world as understood by someone else.

These discoveries inevitably raise a question: If babies have such a rich understanding of objects and people so early in life, why do they seem so ignorant and helpless? Why don’t they put their knowledge to more active use? One possible answer is that these capacities are the psychological equivalent of physical traits like testicles or ovaries, which are formed in infancy and then sit around, useless, for years and years. Another possibility is that babies do, in fact, use their knowledge from Day 1, not for action but for learning. One lesson from the study of artificial intelligence (and from cognitive science more generally) is that an empty head learns nothing: a system that is capable of rapidly absorbing information needs to have some prewired understanding of what to pay attention to and what generalizations to make. Babies might start off smart, then, because it enables them to get smarter.

Nice Babies
Psychologists like myself who are interested in the cognitive capacities of babies and toddlers are now turning our attention to whether babies have a “naïve morality.” But there is reason to proceed with caution. Morality, after all, is a different sort of affair than physics or psychology. The truths of physics and psychology are universal: objects obey the same physical laws everywhere; and people everywhere have minds, goals, desires and beliefs. But the existence of a universal moral code is a highly controversial claim; there is considerable evidence for wide variation from society to society.

In the journal Science a couple of months ago, the psychologist Joseph Henrich and several of his colleagues reported a cross-cultural study of 15 diverse populations and found that people’s propensities to behave kindly to strangers and to punish unfairness are strongest in large-scale communities with market economies, where such norms are essential to the smooth functioning of trade. Henrich and his colleagues concluded that much of the morality that humans possess is a consequence of the culture in which they are raised, not their innate capacities.

At the same time, though, people everywhere have some sense of right and wrong. You won’t find a society where people don’t have some notion of fairness, don’t put some value on loyalty and kindness, don’t distinguish between acts of cruelty and innocent mistakes, don’t categorize people as nasty or nice. These universals make evolutionary sense. Since natural selection works, at least in part, at a genetic level, there is a logic to being instinctively kind to our kin, whose survival and well-being promote the spread of our genes. More than that, it is often beneficial for humans to work together with other humans, which means that it would have been adaptive to evaluate the niceness and nastiness of other individuals. All this is reason to consider the innateness of at least basic moral concepts.

In addition, scientists know that certain compassionate feelings and impulses emerge early and apparently universally in human development. These are not moral concepts, exactly, but they seem closely related. One example is feeling pain at the pain of others. In his book “The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals,” Charles Darwin, a keen observer of human nature, tells the story of how his first son, William, was fooled by his nurse into expressing sympathy at a very young age: “When a few days over 6 months old, his nurse pretended to cry, and I saw that his face instantly assumed a melancholy expression, with the corners of his mouth strongly depressed.”

There seems to be something evolutionarily ancient to this empathetic response. If you want to cause a rat distress, you can expose it to the screams of other rats. Human babies, notably, cry more to the cries of other babies than to tape recordings of their own crying, suggesting that they are responding to their awareness of someone else’s pain, not merely to a certain pitch of sound. Babies also seem to want to assuage the pain of others: once they have enough physical competence (starting at about 1 year old), they soothe others in distress by stroking and touching or by handing over a bottle or toy. There are individual differences, to be sure, in the intensity of response: some babies are great soothers; others don’t care as much. But the basic impulse seems common to all. (Some other primates behave similarly: the primatologist Frans de Waal reports that chimpanzees “will approach a victim of attack, put an arm around her and gently pat her back or groom her.” Monkeys, on the other hand, tend to shun victims of aggression.)

Some recent studies have explored the existence of behavior in toddlers that is “altruistic” in an even stronger sense — like when they give up their time and energy to help a stranger accomplish a difficult task. The psychologists Felix Warneken and Michael Tomasello have put toddlers in situations in which an adult is struggling to get something done, like opening a cabinet door with his hands full or trying to get to an object out of reach. The toddlers tend to spontaneously help, even without any prompting, encouragement or reward.

Is any of the above behavior recognizable as moral conduct? Not obviously so. Moral ideas seem to involve much more than mere compassion. Morality, for instance, is closely related to notions of praise and blame: we want to reward what we see as good and punish what we see as bad. Morality is also closely connected to the ideal of impartiality — if it’s immoral for you to do something to me, then, all else being equal, it is immoral for me to do the same thing to you. In addition, moral principles are different from other types of rules or laws: they cannot, for instance, be overruled solely by virtue of authority. (Even a 4-year-old knows not only that unprovoked hitting is wrong but also that it would continue to be wrong even if a teacher said that it was O.K.) And we tend to associate morality with the possibility of free and rational choice; people choose to do good or evil. To hold someone responsible for an act means that we believe that he could have chosen to act otherwise.

Babies and toddlers might not know or exhibit any of these moral subtleties. Their sympathetic reactions and motivations — including their desire to alleviate the pain of others — may not be much different in kind from purely nonmoral reactions and motivations like growing hungry or wanting to void a full bladder. Even if that is true, though, it is hard to conceive of a moral system that didn’t have, as a starting point, these empathetic capacities. As David Hume argued, mere rationality can’t be the foundation of morality, since our most basic desires are neither rational nor irrational. “ ’Tis not contrary to reason,” he wrote, “to prefer the destruction of the whole world to the scratching of my finger.” To have a genuinely moral system, in other words, some things first have to matter, and what we see in babies is the development of mattering.

Moral-Baby Experiments
So what do babies really understand about morality? Our first experiments exploring this question were done in collaboration with a postdoctoral researcher named Valerie Kuhlmeier (who is now an associate professor of psychology at Queen’s University in Ontario). Building on previous work by the psychologists David and Ann Premack, we began by investigating what babies think about two particular kinds of action: helping and hindering.

Our experiments involved having children watch animated movies of geometrical characters with faces. In one, a red ball would try to go up a hill. On some attempts, a yellow square got behind the ball and gently nudged it upward; in others, a green triangle got in front of it and pushed it down. We were interested in babies’ expectations about the ball’s attitudes — what would the baby expect the ball to make of the character who helped it and the one who hindered it? To find out, we then showed the babies additional movies in which the ball either approached the square or the triangle. When the ball approached the triangle (the hinderer), both 9- and 12-month-olds looked longer than they did when the ball approached the square (the helper). This was consistent with the interpretation that the former action surprised them; they expected the ball to approach the helper. A later study, using somewhat different stimuli, replicated the finding with 10-month-olds, but found that 6-month-olds seem to have no expectations at all. (This effect is robust only when the animated characters have faces; when they are simple faceless figures, it is apparently harder for babies to interpret what they are seeing as a social interaction.)

This experiment was designed to explore babies’ expectations about social interactions, not their moral capacities per se. But if you look at the movies, it’s clear that, at least to adult eyes, there is some latent moral content to the situation: the triangle is kind of a jerk; the square is a sweetheart. So we set out to investigate whether babies make the same judgments about the characters that adults do. Forget about how babies expect the ball to act toward the other characters; what do babies themselves think about the square and the triangle? Do they prefer the good guy and dislike the bad guy?

Here we began our more focused investigations into baby morality. For these studies, parents took their babies to the Infant Cognition Center, which is within one of the Yale psychology buildings. (The center is just a couple of blocks away from where Stanley Milgram did his famous experiments on obedience in the early 1960s, tricking New Haven residents into believing that they had severely harmed or even killed strangers with electrical shocks.) The parents were told about what was going to happen and filled out consent forms, which described the study, the risks to the baby (minimal) and the benefits to the baby (minimal, though it is a nice-enough experience). Parents often asked, reasonably enough, if they would learn how their baby does, and the answer was no. This sort of study provides no clinical or educational feedback about individual babies; the findings make sense only when computed as a group.

For the experiment proper, a parent will carry his or her baby into a small testing room. A typical experiment takes about 15 minutes. Usually, the parent sits on a chair, with the baby on his or her lap, though for some studies, the baby is strapped into a high chair with the parent standing behind. At this point, some of the babies are either sleeping or too fussy to continue; there will then be a short break for the baby to wake up or calm down, but on average this kind of study ends up losing about a quarter of the subjects. Just as critics describe much of experimental psychology as the study of the American college undergraduate who wants to make some extra money or needs to fulfill an Intro Psych requirement, there’s some truth to the claim that this developmental work is a science of the interested and alert baby.

In one of our first studies of moral evaluation, we decided not to use two-dimensional animated movies but rather a three-dimensional display in which real geometrical objects, manipulated like puppets, acted out the helping/hindering situations: a yellow square would help the circle up the hill; a red triangle would push it down. After showing the babies the scene, the experimenter placed the helper and the hinderer on a tray and brought them to the child. In this instance, we opted to record not the babies’ looking time but rather which character they reached for, on the theory that what a baby reaches for is a reliable indicator of what a baby wants. In the end, we found that 6- and 10-month-old infants overwhelmingly preferred the helpful individual to the hindering individual. This wasn’t a subtle statistical trend; just about all the babies reached for the good guy.

(Experimental minutiae: What if babies simply like the color red or prefer squares or something like that? To control for this, half the babies got the yellow square as the helper; half got it as the hinderer. What about problems of unconscious cueing and unconscious bias? To avoid this, at the moment when the two characters were offered on the tray, the parent had his or her eyes closed, and the experimenter holding out the characters and recording the responses hadn’t seen the puppet show, so he or she didn’t know who was the good guy and who the bad guy.)

One question that arose with these experiments was how to understand the babies’ preference: did they act as they did because they were attracted to the helpful individual or because they were repelled by the hinderer or was it both? We explored this question in a further series of studies that introduced a neutral character, one that neither helps nor hinders. We found that, given a choice, infants prefer a helpful character to a neutral one; and prefer a neutral character to one who hinders. This finding indicates that both inclinations are at work — babies are drawn to the nice guy and repelled by the mean guy. Again, these results were not subtle; babies almost always showed this pattern of response.

Does our research show that babies believe that the helpful character is good and the hindering character is bad? Not necessarily. All that we can safely infer from what the babies reached for is that babies prefer the good guy and show an aversion to the bad guy. But what’s exciting here is that these preferences are based on how one individual treated another, on whether one individual was helping another individual achieve its goals or hindering it. This is preference of a very special sort; babies were responding to behaviors that adults would describe as nice or mean. When we showed these scenes to much older kids — 18-month-olds — and asked them, “Who was nice? Who was good?” and “Who was mean? Who was bad?” they responded as adults would, identifying the helper as nice and the hinderer as mean.

To increase our confidence that the babies we studied were really responding to niceness and naughtiness, Karen Wynn and Kiley Hamlin, in a separate series of studies, created different sets of one-act morality plays to show the babies. In one, an individual struggled to open a box; the lid would be partly opened but then fall back down. Then, on alternating trials, one puppet would grab the lid and open it all the way, and another puppet would jump on the box and slam it shut. In another study (the one I mentioned at the beginning of this article), a puppet would play with a ball. The puppet would roll the ball to another puppet, who would roll it back, and the first puppet would roll the ball to a different puppet who would run away with it. In both studies, 5-month-olds preferred the good guy — the one who helped to open the box; the one who rolled the ball back — to the bad guy. This all suggests that the babies we studied have a general appreciation of good and bad behavior, one that spans a range of actions.

A further question that arises is whether babies possess more subtle moral capacities than preferring good and avoiding bad. Part and parcel of adult morality, for instance, is the idea that good acts should meet with a positive response and bad acts with a negative response — justice demands the good be rewarded and the bad punished. For our next studies, we turned our attention back to the older babies and toddlers and tried to explore whether the preferences that we were finding had anything to do with moral judgment in this mature sense. In collaboration with Neha Mahajan, a psychology graduate student at Yale, Hamlin, Wynn and I exposed 21-month-olds to the good guy/bad guy situations described above, and we gave them the opportunity to reward or punish either by giving a treat to, or taking a treat from, one of the characters. We found that when asked to give, they tended to chose the positive character; when asked to take, they tended to choose the negative one.

Dispensing justice like this is a more elaborate conceptual operation than merely preferring good to bad, but there are still-more-elaborate moral calculations that adults, at least, can easily make. For example: Which individual would you prefer — someone who rewarded good guys and punished bad guys or someone who punished good guys and rewarded bad guys? The same amount of rewarding and punishing is going on in both cases, but by adult lights, one individual is acting justly and the other isn’t. Can babies see this, too?

To find out, we tested 8-month-olds by first showing them a character who acted as a helper (for instance, helping a puppet trying to open a box) and then presenting a scene in which this helper was the target of a good action by one puppet and a bad action by another puppet. Then we got the babies to choose between these two puppets. That is, they had to choose between a puppet who rewarded a good guy versus a puppet who punished a good guy. Likewise, we showed them a character who acted as a hinderer (for example, keeping a puppet from opening a box) and then had them choose between a puppet who rewarded the bad guy versus one who punished the bad guy.

The results were striking. When the target of the action was itself a good guy, babies preferred the puppet who was nice to it. This alone wasn’t very surprising, given that the other studies found an overall preference among babies for those who act nicely. What was more interesting was what happened when they watched the bad guy being rewarded or punished. Here they chose the punisher. Despite their overall preference for good actors over bad, then, babies are drawn to bad actors when those actors are punishing bad behavior.

All of this research, taken together, supports a general picture of baby morality. It’s even possible, as a thought experiment, to ask what it would be like to see the world in the moral terms that a baby does. Babies probably have no conscious access to moral notions, no idea why certain acts are good or bad. They respond on a gut level. Indeed, if you watch the older babies during the experiments, they don’t act like impassive judges — they tend to smile and clap during good events and frown, shake their heads and look sad during the naughty events (remember the toddler who smacked the bad puppet). The babies’ experiences might be cognitively empty but emotionally intense, replete with strong feelings and strong desires. But this shouldn’t strike you as an altogether alien experience: while we adults possess the additional critical capacity of being able to consciously reason about morality, we’re not otherwise that different from babies — our moral feelings are often instinctive. In fact, one discovery of contemporary research in social psychology and social neuroscience is the powerful emotional underpinning of what we once thought of as cool, untroubled, mature moral deliberation.

Is This the Morality We’re Looking For?
What do these findings about babies’ moral notions tell us about adult morality? Some scholars think that the very existence of an innate moral sense has profound implications. In 1869, Alfred Russel Wallace, who along with Darwin discovered natural selection, wrote that certain human capacities — including “the higher moral faculties” — are richer than what you could expect from a product of biological evolution. He concluded that some sort of godly force must intervene to create these capacities. (Darwin was horrified at this suggestion, writing to Wallace, “I hope you have not murdered too completely your own and my child.”)

A few years ago, in his book “What’s So Great About Christianity,” the social and cultural critic Dinesh D’Souza revived this argument. He conceded that evolution can explain our niceness in instances like kindness to kin, where the niceness has a clear genetic payoff, but he drew the line at “high altruism,” acts of entirely disinterested kindness. For D’Souza, “there is no Darwinian rationale” for why you would give up your seat for an old lady on a bus, an act of nice-guyness that does nothing for your genes. And what about those who donate blood to strangers or sacrifice their lives for a worthy cause? D’Souza reasoned that these stirrings of conscience are best explained not by evolution or psychology but by “the voice of God within our souls.”

The evolutionary psychologist has a quick response to this: To say that a biological trait evolves for a purpose doesn’t mean that it always functions, in the here and now, for that purpose. Sexual arousal, for instance, presumably evolved because of its connection to making babies; but of course we can get aroused in all sorts of situations in which baby-making just isn’t an option — for instance, while looking at pornography. Similarly, our impulse to help others has likely evolved because of the reproductive benefit that it gives us in certain contexts — and it’s not a problem for this argument that some acts of niceness that people perform don’t provide this sort of benefit. (And for what it’s worth, giving up a bus seat for an old lady, although the motives might be psychologically pure, turns out to be a coldbloodedly smart move from a Darwinian standpoint, an easy way to show off yourself as an attractively good person.)

The general argument that critics like Wallace and D’Souza put forward, however, still needs to be taken seriously. The morality of contemporary humans really does outstrip what evolution could possibly have endowed us with; moral actions are often of a sort that have no plausible relation to our reproductive success and don’t appear to be accidental byproducts of evolved adaptations. Many of us care about strangers in faraway lands, sometimes to the extent that we give up resources that could be used for our friends and family; many of us care about the fates of nonhuman animals, so much so that we deprive ourselves of pleasures like rib-eye steak and veal scaloppine. We possess abstract moral notions of equality and freedom for all; we see racism and sexism as evil; we reject slavery and genocide; we try to love our enemies. Of course, our actions typically fall short, often far short, of our moral principles, but these principles do shape, in a substantial way, the world that we live in. It makes sense then to marvel at the extent of our moral insight and to reject the notion that it can be explained in the language of natural selection. If this higher morality or higher altruism were found in babies, the case for divine creation would get just a bit stronger.

But it is not present in babies. In fact, our initial moral sense appears to be biased toward our own kind. There’s plenty of research showing that babies have within-group preferences: 3-month-olds prefer the faces of the race that is most familiar to them to those of other races; 11-month-olds prefer individuals who share their own taste in food and expect these individuals to be nicer than those with different tastes; 12-month-olds prefer to learn from someone who speaks their own language over someone who speaks a foreign language. And studies with young children have found that once they are segregated into different groups — even under the most arbitrary of schemes, like wearing different colored T-shirts — they eagerly favor their own groups in their attitudes and their actions.

The notion at the core of any mature morality is that of impartiality. If you are asked to justify your actions, and you say, “Because I wanted to,” this is just an expression of selfish desire. But explanations like “It was my turn” or “It’s my fair share” are potentially moral, because they imply that anyone else in the same situation could have done the same. This is the sort of argument that could be convincing to a neutral observer and is at the foundation of standards of justice and law. The philosopher Peter Singer has pointed out that this notion of impartiality can be found in religious and philosophical systems of morality, from the golden rule in Christianity to the teachings of Confucius to the political philosopher John Rawls’s landmark theory of justice. This is an insight that emerges within communities of intelligent, deliberating and negotiating beings, and it can override our parochial impulses.

The aspect of morality that we truly marvel at — its generality and universality — is the product of culture, not of biology. There is no need to posit divine intervention. A fully developed morality is the product of cultural development, of the accumulation of rational insight and hard-earned innovations. The morality we start off with is primitive, not merely in the obvious sense that it’s incomplete, but in the deeper sense that when individuals and societies aspire toward an enlightened morality — one in which all beings capable of reason and suffering are on an equal footing, where all people are equal — they are fighting with what children have from the get-go. The biologist Richard Dawkins was right, then, when he said at the start of his book “The Selfish Gene,” “Be warned that if you wish, as I do, to build a society in which individuals cooperate generously and unselfishly toward a common good, you can expect little help from biological nature.” Or as a character in the Kingsley Amis novel “One Fat Englishman” puts it, “It was no wonder that people were so horrible when they started life as children.”

Morality, then, is a synthesis of the biological and the cultural, of the unlearned, the discovered and the invented. Babies possess certain moral foundations — the capacity and willingness to judge the actions of others, some sense of justice, gut responses to altruism and nastiness. Regardless of how smart we are, if we didn’t start with this basic apparatus, we would be nothing more than amoral agents, ruthlessly driven to pursue our self-interest. But our capacities as babies are sharply limited. It is the insights of rational individuals that make a truly universal and unselfish morality something that our species can aspire to.

Paul Bloom is a professor of psychology at Yale. His new book, “How Pleasure Works,” will be published next month.

Debra H. v. Janice R. – An affirmation of Second Parent Adoption

May 4, 2010

By Anthony M. Brown, Esq.

The New York Court of Appeals issued their ruling today on what had been considered to be a potentially landmark case, Debra H. v. Janice R.  In their ruling, the court allowed the plaintiff, Debra H., access to her non-biological child with whom she had been denied visitation from the biological mother, Janice R.  That sounds great, right?  Wrong.

In doing so, the court allowed to stand the precedent  notion that a biological parent can deny access of a mutually planned on, conceived and raised child, or children, to a non-biological parent.  In essence, the court relied solely on the fact that the parties had entered into a Vermont Civil Union to establish parental rights between Debra H. and her child.  That in itself has many repercussions for the dissolution of Vermont Civil Unions in New York, as well as other parents who have not undergone a Second Parent Adoption, which was specifically authorized by this very same court in 1995. 

The court today said that without a Vermont Civil Union in this particular case, there would be no relief for a non-biological parent seeking visitation with a child who may be seriously hurt by the denial of access to both parents.  Only a Second Parent Adoption would secure those rights.  The court steered clear of addressing the best interests of children in such a precarious position, which seems disingenuous as the best interests of the child have always been the touchstone of family law in New York State.

This decision opens the door to challenges based on marital status, but may require couples to have lived in a jurisdiction that honors their marriage before honoring it here in New York.

The reality of this decision is that the court has punted the issue of having family law catch up to modern families to the Legislature.  If past is prologue, we have an uphill battle ahead of us and the only lesson to take from this decision is to do everything you can to secure your rights to any children born into a nontraditional family through Second Parent Adoption after a child is born, and through marriage or civil union prior to the birth of any children.  That said, the court’s decision fails to protect male litigants as their parental rights cannot be effectively established through marital status.