September 1, 2016
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Thursday, September 1, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
"De facto" parents? In stunning decision, New York's highest court radically redefines parenting
The relationship between parent and child, between parents and child, mother and father and child, is superseded by only one other human relationships in the biblical worldview, and that is the relationship between the husband and the wife, who become the father and the mother. This is made clear at the end of Genesis chapter 2 where we are told, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” The incredible thing about that passage is that it tells us that the relationship of the husband and the wife is the only basic relationship that is even more important than the relationship between children and parents.
Keep that in mind as you see headlines coming at us, because on Tuesday the New York State Court of Appeals ruled that the entire definition of parenthood has to be redefined in terms of the modern age on the other side of the sexual revolution, most pointedly on the other side of the LGBT revolution. As the New York Times, Alan Feuer reports,Show Full Transcript
“Expanding the definition of what it means to be a parent, especially for same-sex couples, the New York State Court of Appeals ruled on Tuesday that a caretaker who is not related to, or the adoptive guardian of, a child could still be permitted to ask for custody and visitation rights.”
As the Times reports,
“The ruling emerged from a dispute between a gay couple from Chautauqua County.”
The lawyer of one, the national director of constitutional litigation at the group known as Lambda Legal, said the decision was a “landmark in New York State.”
And she said it would bring the state “into line with the mainstream,” as she described it, “in the United States in recognizing that children frequently have a second parent not related to them by blood, adoption or marriage.”
She went on and said,
“The state’s highest court is recognizing the diversity of New York families and reversing a bitter precedent that has kept children from their parents.”
Now this story is so important that it requires us to pause for a moment. We are, after all, talking about the redefinition of parenthood. In neither the case of the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal or most other major newspapers did this make the front page. Now just think about that for a moment. Here we’re talking about an institution and human structure of life that goes back to the book of Genesis, and it has just been redefined in one of the nation’s most populous states and it doesn’t even make the front page of the paper.
We also have to recognize that in the perspective of the Christian worldview, it’s hard to imagine a story more important than this. This is a major turning point in human history, not just this one court case of New York, but the larger turn that we are now experiencing in Western cultures towards the redefinition of human sexuality, of gender, of personal identity, and inevitably, of course, marriage and the family, including parenthood.
The case in this particular story has to do with a gay couple who separated during the time they were together. One was the biological parent of a child, and the other was recognized in some sense also as operating as a parent. After the gay couple broke up, the biological parent wanted to deny the other former partner the opportunity to have custody and visitation rights of the child. That’s what led this court case into history, and that history comes down, as the attorney said, to the fact that there is now a “mainstream in the United States,” by her definition, that recognizes, I read again, “that children frequently have a second parent not related to them by blood, adoption or marriage.”
Now this is such a major redefinition of human relationships that that language can actually mask what’s going on. We need to step back for a moment and recognize that it’s not just the tradition in American law, it is the tradition throughout human societies throughout human history that parenthood has been defined first of all in terms of biology, second in terms of adoption. There is no precedent in human history for the absolute redefinition of parenthood to allow for some concept of a non-biological norm for parenthood or the fact that parenthood is now extended beyond the question of biology, even beyond the issue of adoption.
Previously and almost universally, parenthood had been determined by descent—that is in terms of biology—a mother and a father to whom a child is given by biological process or by adoption in which there is a formally, legally recognized process, whereby a child who is not biologically related to at least one of the parents can be adopted by both parents or in terms of other situations even by an individual. The key issue there is the understanding that it is a formal, legal process by which the entire society—in the case of the United States by means of the courts—recognizes that there is an authentic parenthood that is here being recognized and is to be recognized and respected by the larger community.
That’s why throughout the history of the United States we have talked about parents, those parents being mother and father, and we have used other language such as stepmother and stepfather in certain circumstances, and we have referred to those who are the recognized legal guardians. And all of those have involved the issue of marriage and the issue of biology or the question of adoption and a formal, legal process. That’s what is so fundamentally changed in terms of this court decision, and there is no masking the fact nor even hedging the fact that in all the major media coverage of this event, that it is occasioned by the LGBT revolution and by the innovation of what is now called same-sex marriage.
Toward the end of the New York Times story on this court case, there’s actually a new language that is injected into our understanding of what’s at stake here. That is the language of “de facto parents.”
So throughout human history, we’ve had biological parents and adoptive parents. And now we have “de facto parents.”
What makes someone a de facto parent? Well, according to this court in New York, it is by being involved in the life of the child such that one is presumed to be a parent or a de facto parent.
Now here, the Wall Street Journal coverage of the story becomes absolutely crucial. Sara Randazzo reporting for the Wall Street Journal tells us that the court ruled,
“That going forward, a partner can seek visitation and custody if it is shown”—now, here’s the court’s language—“by clear and convincing evidence that the parties agreed to conceive a child and to raise the child together.”
Now again, we have to pause for a moment, and we need to recognize that even in the case of this court’s language the word “conceive” doesn’t mean what that word has meant throughout all human history. Now we’re talking about couples having children when having children does not involve both of the parents being involved in the biology whatsoever. Behind this is of course a technological revolution in terms of advanced reproductive technologies and the development, specifically, of what were called test tube babies originally, now the in vitro fertilization procedure. But there is also something more important behind this morally, and that is the redefinition of human sexual relationships in the wake of the LGBT revolution.
But the court didn’t stop there, and that’s what makes the case even more important than I think most have recognized. The court went on to say not only that this de facto parenting would be recognized, let me use the language again, “by clear and convincing evidence that the parties agreed to conceive a child and to raise the child together,” but the court went on as the Wall Street Journal says to “recognize that some people could even deserve custody if they came into a child’s life after the birth.”
Now the revolution has gone further here than the headlines and the stories even recognize, but there’s more that is injected into this in language. And that has to do with the fact that now there are legal experts in the wake of this kind of decision from the New York Court of Appeals who are recognizing that this could create a situation in which virtually anyone who has a relationship with the child can claim that they are, in the language the New York Times, “de facto parents.”
And thus, they can go to the court for some kind of relief in terms of gaining custody or access or visitation with the child. That’s a very dangerous precedent just in terms of every family in the United States, but it is a particular issue of our concern because this is exactly what has to happen, legally speaking, when society tries to conform itself to the sexual revolution it has now adopted, normalized, and celebrated. When it comes to the explicit effort to try to overthrow traditional sexual morality, what you see is that what is enabled, what is then authorized, is not something else, but inevitably and eventually almost everything else.
That’s what’s really scary about this news story. It’s not that just somehow there is the recognition in terms of the legalization of same-sex marriage, that this represents something new that has to be, according to that logic, added to the picture of our definition of family. Rather, what this story really tells us is that there is no adequate or objective understanding of what it means to be a parent at all. We’re talking about adding to the historic understanding of biological parents and adoptive parents those who are described as de facto parents. As the Wall Street Journal reports,
“Opponents argued that such expanded rules can be a slippery slope leading to abusive partners or anyone claiming ties to a child to drag a biological parent into court for bogus legal challenges.”
I also need to draw attention to the last paragraph of the article in yesterday’s edition of the Wall Street Journal. I quote,
“The decision … said the court was wrong in a 1991 decision involving a lesbian couple in setting a ‘needlessly narrow’ rule limiting the scope of parenthood to biology and adoption.”
Now let’s go back to that 1991 case, and again you’ll note that even then it involved a same-sex couple. But you’ll note that in 1991—we’re not talking about ancient history here, we’re talking about 1991—the New York State Court of Appeals, this very same court, said that the restriction to the definition of parenthood should be limited, and I quote,
“to biology and adoption.”
Now in so doing in 1991 that court established its continuity and consistency throughout virtually all of recorded human history, and of course for Christians this means all the way back to Adam and Eve in the book of Genesis. Thus the revolution has now taken place though, in the year 2016, just a generation after that court ruled so reasonably in 1991. But you’ll also notice the almost repentance that is reflected in this new court decision. As the judge said that it was wrong in 1991 that the court made that decision and that back then it had set a “needlessly narrow rule.”
So let’s reflect on this. That means that in a quarter of a century this court changed its mind. But there’s more to it than that. In a quarter of a century, the society changed its entire sexual ethic and thus also its definition of marriage and parenthood and what it means to be the parent of a child. But there’s more to it even than that. It means that in the course of just one day, Tuesday of this week in the year 2016, the New York State Court of Appeals redefined the entire relationship between parent and child, reversing not only what it had said in 1991, but thousands of years of human experience and moral judgment.
When it comes to their own children, liberals tend to be more concerned about pornography
Next, when talking about the relationship between parents and children, one of the issues that vexes many contemporary parents is how to protect their own children in a digital world. Judith Shulevitz wrote about this recently in the New York Times in an article entitled,
“On PornHub, Nobody Knows You’re a Kid.”
She dismisses much of the Republican concern about human sexuality, but then she writes,
“But non-Republicans would be foolish to dismiss pornography as a non-issue. Internet pornography is a real problem for the 66 million American parents with children under 18. Parents don’t have to believe that such material is a direct cause of sexual violence to be driven a little crazy by it. It’s bad enough that it’s giving our sons and daughters some very creepy ideas about how they’re supposed to look and act.
Now before we go further, we need to recognize, once again, that this article is appearing in the opinion pages of the New York Times. We need to recognize that this author has demonstrated in every way she possibly could that she is a liberal when it comes to the larger culture and the larger questions of sexual morality. But all of the sudden, she says pornography really is a problem. She says it’s not only a problem if someone can document that it leads to sexual violence, rather she says she’s concerned about those,
“very creepy ideas about how they’re supposed to look and act” as conveyed by Internet pornography.
She refers to parents she spots suffering from what she calls pornography based anxiety.
“They obsess over whether the seventh-grader supposedly writing an essay is actually watching a … video on PornHub. They experience low self-esteem because they can’t figure out, or even find, a parental-control program that would filter out the gross stuff without restricting their children to just a few approved sites, making it essentially impossible for them to do web searches for their homework.”
She then writes,
“I was outraged when I asked the school my 12-year-old was attending to help me porn-proof the laptop we’d been advised to buy for him, and the school said no. As it turns out, that was more or less the only answer it could give. There just isn’t a good way to keep a curious child from ferreting out graphic imagery.”
Now, we simply have to interject at this point, but that’s not exactly true. What she’s defining here is a situation in which liberal parents want to allow their children to have access to some very explicit sexual material that they would not identify as pornography. There are technological and digital devices and programs that will prevent a child from getting to at least the vast majority of most of these sites. But that means that more liberal parents may find themselves restricting their children more than they intended. There’s a parable there also, of course.
But the important thing for our worldview consideration is that here you have a liberal mom writing in the pages of a liberal newspaper about her concern about the reality of the danger of pornography. Now what does that tell us? Well it tells us that she feels she needs to convince the liberal world that pornography is really, genuinely a problem. It also is very telling that she doesn’t want to describe this in moralistic terms; she doesn’t really want to describe pornography as inherently wrong. She doesn’t even raise the issue of the morality of pornography when it comes to those defined as adults. Rather, she’s concerned, and we need to note this, that there must be a problem, there must be a problem of some sort in children, including her own 12-year-old described in this article, as having access to pornography.
There’s also some information in this article by Judith Shulevitz that should be of interest to Christian parents. For example, she tells us that the purveyors of pornography on the Internet are now using sophisticated data collection techniques in order to focus just how they are trying to send invitations and enticements over the Internet to users of that very digital universe. This is something that many parents might not recognize because they discard all of this routinely when it comes to their own websites or to their own browsers, but it is something they might not be aware is being specifically directed to their children. Now again, this particular mother is at pains to say that she’s not “against the proliferation of internet sexualities.”
But she is concerned about her children. Now that’s also revealing, and Shulevitz doesn’t speak just for herself but for some other parents who were cited in the article, very liberal parents who really don’t have a problem with pornography in general or with the pervasive sexualization of the larger society, but when it comes to their children, they do have concern. We should be thankful for that. That demonstrates that there is something in the bond between parent and child that even liberal parents who are at least officially even enthusiastic about the sexual revolution—they do have a basic protective instinct about their own children. That’s important, and that is exactly what the Christian worldview says is to be honored. It is to point to the fact that that is not just some kind of overprotective instinct on the part of parents, it is a basic instinct that is implanted into parents by the very nature of the parent’s relationship with the child as given to them by God. It is something that points to an even deeper moral intuition that is also to be honored.
The incongruity of this article is liberal parents who are trying to support the sexual revolution in every way up until the point when they recognize their own children are now the intended victims of that revolution, at least by pornographers. But we also have to note a certain kind of moral defeatism that is also very much reflected in this article. I quote the article where the author cites Danah Boyd, the author of a book entitled, “It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens,” who said,
“The key to parenting children around pornography is not to start an arms race with them by trying to block their access.”
Instead, she said,
“It’s about equipping them with the critical sensibilities to interrogate the kinds of sexualized content that is presented to them regularly,” whether by the Internet or by other means.
Now, wait just a moment. Can this possibly be a serious suggestion? We have to step back and wonder if this is supposed to be morally serious advice in which parents are told that they should not try to block their children by any kind of means from Internet pornography, but rather they are, I simply have to repeat her words again,
“equipping them with the critical sensibilities to interrogate the kinds of sexualized content that is presented to them regularly.”
Now when you revert to language about equipping children and teenagers with what you define as critical sensibilities to then, I have to quote it again, “interrogate sexualized content,” you have already lost the battle. That’s not a statement of moral responsibility. That’s a statement of moral surrender and the total abdication of parental responsibility. Let’s just state the matter clearly. Whether it is an adult or a child or an adolescent, when you reduce this to the moral language of equipping human beings by critical sensibilities to interrogate kinds of sexualized content, the battle is not only lost, the battle is over. I also find it interesting how Julie Shulevitz concludes her article. She wrote,
“My generation made fun of Tipper Gore in the 1980s, when she urged music companies to label record covers when the lyrics were obscene. I apologize to Mrs. Gore. She wasn’t stopping anyone from making music. She was trying to come up with a good-enough filter.”
“The songs Mrs. Gore objected to seem innocent compared with today’s raunchy, shall we say pornified, playlist. As the pornography industry explores the darkest reaches of the human psyche in search of profits, liberals may want to rethink the assumption that only archconservatives would try to stop children from going there, too.
The biblical worldview reminds us that wisdom is to be respected, and it is to be recognized wherever it is found. There is wisdom in this article, but it is a wisdom that is mixed with a great deal of un-wisdom. It is a moral courage that is also balanced by what in this article is a moral abdication of duty. But it does tell us a very great deal that here you have genuinely concerned parents, and I have no doubt whatsoever that Judith Shulevitz is very and honestly concerned about her own children. And I’m glad she is. And by the time she concludes her article, she is absolutely ready to say that it’s not just archconservatives, as she says, but liberal parents who should try and stop their children from going there, when going there means Internet pornography.