Questions to Pose and Ponder about the Rights of Children

Asking Questions Helps Frame the Debate

by William B. May

Most are quite familiar with arguments supporting the redefinition of marriage. Many have been confronted with the tough questions that create confusion about the reality of marriage and its purpose, and are used to justify accommodating the aspirations of the “gay rights” movement. These questions and how to respond to them are addressed in the final chapter of Getting the Marriage Conversation Right. However, there are other questions about marriage and its relationship to the fundamental human rights of children that also must be asked in a respectful way.

Although they may seem counter-cultural at first, these questions are important to provoke thought, and to open new kinds of discussions about the reality of marriage and family. They help reveal the dignity and rights of the child and stimulate contemplation in search for the truth about the human person, marriage and family.

 Some of these questions may provoke very deep feelings that may be difficult for some to deal with, and may require time for reflection. They are not meant to put someone on the spot or to be used in ways that could imply criticism or judgment about something that someone has done in the past. As a society, we have all fallen short of God's plan for marriage and human sexuality.  It is time to recognize our collective brokenness and to begin working together to build a more just and humane society. The past is past. The focus now must be on rebuilding a marriage culture and protecting, as far as possible, the rights of children and the best interests of society for the future.

Consider these questions:

Does a child have a fundamental human right to know and, as far as possible, be cared for by his or her mother and father?

  • Consider, everyone without exception has a mother and father. Does that fact have a significance that goes beyond biology?
  • Consider the common desire we all have to know, and to be cared for and loved by the man and woman from whom we originated. Those relationships are part of our identity—not just with our mom and dad, but brothers and sisters, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.
  • Consider: Men and women have a fundamental human right to procreate.[1] However, it is common sense (and Catholic teaching) that because of the potential for conflict between the child’s right to be born into a real family united with his or her mother and father, men and women have a responsibility to only intentionally procreate after they have made themselves irreplaceable to each other through marriage.[2]
Do you think it would be good to have a public institution that specifically unites children with their moms and dads or promotes they be raised by their moms and dads together?
  • If YES, that institution already exists—it is called marriage. If it did not exist as a natural institution that can be recognized by all, it would have to be invented (not as a matter of usefulness or societal benefit, but as a matter of charity and justice for children.[3]
  • If NO, the question becomes, “How can anyone justify opposing the only institution that unites kids with their moms and dads?” (Note: People may have a tendency to shift the discussion to families with same-sex parents. This moves it away from marriage to the topic of parenting children who have lost or been separated from their moms or dads or both. Marriage is not a requirement for adoption or parenting a child. This is discussed further in Part 5, “Avoiding Common Traps”) .
  • Consider: In 2009, the U.S. Justice Department stated in a brief that “The government does not contend that there are legitimate government interests in ‘creating a legal structure that promotes the raising of children by both of their biological parents . . .”[4] Do you think this is true?

Does anyone have a right to create a child with the intention of depriving him or her of knowing and being cared for by the child’s mother or father or both?

  • Consider the reality of persons conceived by sperm or egg donors, or through the use of surrogates to produce a child for someone else. The reality is that these people search for their anonymous fathers and mothers and brothers and sisters—they are part of that person’s identity.
  • Consider: Does anyone have a right to a child? Does anyone have a right to another person?

Should government, schools and other societal institutions promote the unique value of men and women marrying before having children?

  • Consider the human consequences of the breakdown of marriage on poverty, delinquency, dropout rates, gang membership, incarceration rates, etc. It is a sociological tragedy with real human costs.  Lives are compromised and many are not able to achieve their potential.  Do we have an obligation to future generations?  Do we need to work towards rebuilding a marriage culture to reverse this trend?
  • Consider: Scholars from the liberal Brookings Institution[5] and the conservative Heritage Foundation[6] have suggested programs geared to change behavior to promote marriage. Examples of other such behavior- changing efforts include: anti-smoking, say no to drugs, wear seatbelts, respect the environment, eat healthy foods, get exercise, etc. Do you think changing public behavior and attitudes about the importance of marriage that unites kids with their moms and dads is as important as anti-obesity and anti-smoking campaigns?
  • Consider: While some public policy scholars encourage programs and institutions that promote marriage that unites children with their moms and dads,[7] others say it discriminates against gays because it promotes one type of family (in which children are united with their parents) over another (in which children are deprived of their mother or father or both). What do you think? Is it discriminatory to have a policy that uniquely encourages men and woman to marry before having children?

[1] The human right to procreate is also recognized in the Skinner v. Oklahoma Supreme Court decision, 316 U.S. 535, 536 (62 S.Ct. 1110, 86 L.Ed. 1655). See also, Blessed Pope John Paul II, Encyclical Letter on the Hundredth Anniversary of Rerum Novarum Centesimus Annus (May 1, 1991), 154B.

[2] CDF, Donum Vitae, A1; Blessed Pope John XXIII, Encyclical Letter on Establishing Universal Peace in Truth, Justice, Charity, and Liberty Pacem in Terris (April 11, 1963) nos. 16, 17, 28, 30, “rights and duties”.

[3] Donum Vitae, A1.

[4] Smelts v. United States ( Doc. 42 at 8-9).

[5] Ron Haskins and Isabel Sawhill, Creating an Opportunity Society (Brookings Institution, 2009).

[6] Rector, “Marriage,” Heritage Foundation.

[7] Haskins, Opportunity Society.                                                       




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