August 20, 2011

A birth certificate is a factual document not a rewrite of history

A birth certificate is a factual document not a rewrite of history

A birth certificate is for life and should not be used to rewrite chapters in a child’s life.

Should a birth certificate record a child's genetic and biological history, even if the people who brought them into the world hate each other, live on opposite sides of the planet, spent just one crazy week together, or arranged conception like a business deal through a newspaper advertisement?

This week's court case throws up interesting questions about the notion of what it means to be recognised as a parent.

In what appears to be a complex case involving the acrimonious breakdown of a number of relationships, one gets the sense that in spite of the legal proceedings, all parties believe they have the best interests of the child front of mind.

We might stop and ask, what is the purpose of a birth certificate? Should it be an organic, evolving document or a static synopsis?

Essentially a birth certificate is a legal document; a factual snapshot captured at the beginning of a person's history. In most cases it is an acknowledgment of certain biological realities, sets out information about parentage and enables the state to gather statistical information about birth numbers, names and gender ratios.

And turns out that it can also be used by a US president to prove his citizenship status. This year Barack Obama was forced to produce his own certificate to put to rest rumours about his legitimacy to hold the office of President.

From it we know that he was born in Hawaii, that his mother was an 18-year-old from Wichita, Kansas, and that his father, a university student, aged 25, was born in Kenya. Barrack Hussein Obama II came into the world on August 4, 1961 at 7.24pm.

What the document doesn't tell us is who loved Obama, fed him, paid for his education, taught him to read, took him to his annual dentist appointments and encouraged him to believe that one day he could be President.

We know that from an early age Obama was not raised by his biological father and that he grew up living for a time in Indonesia with his mother and stepfather and a younger half sister, and later lived in Hawaii primarily in the care of his maternal grandparents.

Being named on a birth certificate doesn't make for a great parent. Not being named doesn't equate to insignificance.

Like Obama, many children grow up with only one biological parent, with step-parents, same-sex parents, grandparents, siblings, half-siblings and step-siblings forming part of the modern day non-nuclear family unit. In the long run, surely it is the people who take on the responsibility of raising and loving a child that count, not a name on a document.

Does anyone actually care who is listed as the birth parents on what, let's not forget, is the child's – not the parent's – certificate? When we occasionally have to use our birth certificates for identification purposes, it is not the names of our parents that are scrutinised.

All couples now have the legal right to make a decision to include a mother, a father and a mother, or two mothers on their child's birth certificate.

Just as our children have to put up with the names we bestow on them until they turn 18, it should be incumbent on parents to record the details as they stand at the time of the birth and live with their choices and actions.

We all accept that relationships break down and circumstances may change for parents and children, but birth certificates should whenever possible be preserved. They should not be used as manuscripts for parents, step-parents, lesbian or gay partners or others who are or who have been involved in a child's life to rewrite chapters of their child's history when they decide to recalibrate their own lives.

Emma McDonald is a lawyer and freelance writer.

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Lori said...

I found it interesting, and a bit off kilter. The claim that it is okay to put two mothers or two fathers on the birth certificate - or whatever - that is a little bit not cool...... okay a lot not cool.

Birth certificates are supposed to reflect the BIOLOGICAL lineage of a child. Not the wished for biological lineage. For instance, I have a friend that has a wife and who is a wife. My friend and her wife have 4 children. They are legally married in any state that recognizes same sex marriage. But their childrens' birth certificates reflect a mother - my friend since she is the biological mother - and their biological father. Not my friend's wife.

The facts are that birth certificates are designed to track genealogical lines - not legal lines. And to accept that anyone can simply put in whomever they would like as the parents is to accept that our children are not worthy of the truth.

Amanda said...

I don't know how else to contact you other than to comment here b/c Facebook isn't working. I just want to make sure you are OK. Email me if you can


Theodore said...

Lori, they are supposed to, but:
"Mater semper certa est, pater est, quem nuptiae demonstrant".

All you need to do to get registered as father is being legally fully recognized as male and being married to the person giving birth.