A court of appeal in Canada has ruled that a child can have three parents - the biological mother and father and the mother's lesbian partner. My post on the decision at Constitutionally Correct is here and the point was that the slippery slopes that were dismissed as scare tactics in the course of the same sex marriage debate have proven - again - to be quite real and very immediate.
Why should anyone care? If two parents are better than one, why wouldn't three be better than two? Part of my concern is Burkean, i.e., the notion that we should tread lightly when it comes to longstanding and fundamental social institutions. We really can't know the impact of suddenly deciding to raise kids in a way that, in most places and at most times, they have never been raised.
But only part of my concern is precautionary. I think that mothers and fathers matter and I think the exclusivity of the relationship between a child and his mother or father matters. Many adults care about and care for children, but there only a one mother and one father are likely to have that unconditional and special regard for a child that good parents have. The notions that kids are best raised by committee, that the roles of mothers and fathers are not distinct and valuable in their distinctiveness or that children are not, in the great run of cases, best off when their own mothers and fathers are together all seem quite far-fetched to me.
This is not to say that litte D.D., as the child is identified by the court, might not do fine. Some kids - and some parents - will thrive under any set of circumstances and there will always be ancectdotal evidence in support of just about any family structure. But social institutions need to be set up to encourage what works in the run of cases.
Once again, the greatest impact of reshuffling social institutions to avoid the appearance of discrimination against gays and lesbians may be on heterosexual relationships. The Christian Legal Fellowship of Canada wonders what's next:
There is no doubt that this decision will cause a whole new vista of legal issues and many new court actions as it impacts parental rights and obligations particularly in marriage breakdowns or situations where one or more members of three parent families part company. Deciding what is in the best interests of the child in those circumstances will prove extremely complex, costly and potentially chaotic.
What will prevent this ruling from having similar application to heterosexual marriges upon breakdown and subsequent remarriage? Can one or two step-parents now apply for legal status as a parent and ultimately lead to four or even six parents being recognized by the courts as having say over the child's upbringing? Will the third or fourth or fifth or sixth parent be afforded equal say? What about the child? What say will he/she have in terms of which parent or sets of parents they choose to live with?
David Frum, commenting on National Review Online, is reminded of Evelyn Waugh's comment to Nancy Mitford: "He said that because she had no understanding of the implications of her (left-wing) politics, that for her the future was always full of lovely surprises. Whereas he had to live through every catastrophe twice, once in anticipation, and then again in reality .... "