Every once in a while, a case comes along that makes me truly grateful to be a Catholic.
Our Holy Mother Church has been looking out for us and trying to keep us out of trouble, even when we chafe at her constraints.
But when I see the trouble people get themselves into, I am grateful for our Holy Mother's foresight.
That is how I felt when I read the California Supreme Court's ruling on the April 22 case, K.M v. E.G. Perhaps you don't remember a case by that name, but surely you remember the headlines: “California Establishes Lesbian Parental Rights.”
When I downloaded the case from the Internet, I expected to be outraged, or upset or worried. But when I read the facts of the case, mostly what I felt was sad for these two women and the deep hole they have dug for themselves.
Here are the facts, as reported in the case.
“On March 6, 2001, petitioner K.M. filed a petition to establish a parental relationship with twin 5-year-old girls born to respondent E.G., her former lesbian partner. K.M alleged that she “is the biological parent of the minor children,” because “she donated her eggs to respondent, the gestational mother of the children.”
E.G. moved to dismiss the petition on the grounds that although K.M and E.G. “were lesbian partners who lived together before this action was filed,” K.M. “explicitly donated her ovum under a clear written agreement by which she relinquished any claim to offspring born of her donation.”
The weird fact is: These children do have two mothers. K.M. is their genetic mother, who donated her eggs, and E.G. is their gestational mother, who carried them to term. The problem before the court is how to assign parental rights to these two women.
Is the egg donor more like an anonymous sperm donor, who existing law treats as a “legal stranger” to the child? If so, K.M. is not entitled to visitation or any other parental relationship with the twins.
Or is this case more like a surrogate mother case, in which a married couple each contributed genetic material and the child was carried to term by a surrogate mother?
The couple clearly intended to raise the child together as husband and wife, mother and father. The surrogate mother had no claim on the child that she carried to term, under a contract with the genetic parents. If this case is more like a surrogate mother case, then the genetic mother, K.M. certainly has some parental rights, which the gestational mother, E.G. can not deny.
What does our Holy Mother, the Church (not our genetic or gestational mother, but our spiritual mother) have to say about this sort of case?
Look at the Catechism, No. 2376: “Techniques that entail the dissociation of husband and wife, by the intrusion of a person other than the couple, (donation of sperm or ovum, surrogate uterus) are gravely immoral. These techniques infringe the child's right to be born of a father and mother known to him and bound to each other by marriage. They betray the spouses’ right to become a father and a mother only through each other.”
K.M. and E.G. separated the gestational from the genetic aspects of motherhood. The father of this child, an anonymous sperm donor, is nowhere in sight. No one takes seriously the right of these twins to have a relationship with their father.
Now why would these women choose to reproduce in such a convoluted way? Listen to their testimony:
“E.G. testified that she first considered raising a child before she met K.M. at a time when she did not have a partner. …K.M. and E.G. began living together in March 1994 and registered as domestic partners in San Francisco.
“E.G. visited several fertility clinics in March 1993 to inquire about artificial insemination and she attempted artificial insemination, without success, on 13 occasions, from July 1993 through November 1994. K.M accompanied her to most of these appointments. K.M. testified that she and E.G. planned to raise the child together, while E.G. insisted that, although K.M. was very supportive, E.G. made it clear that her intention was to become ‘a single parent.’
“E.G's first attempts at in-vitro fertilization failed because she was unable to produce sufficient ova. … E.G. asked K.M. to donate her ova, explaining that she would accept the ova only if K.M. ‘would really be a donor,’ and E.G. would ‘be the mother of any child,’ adding that she would not even consider permitting K.M. to adopt the child ‘for at least five years until she felt the relationship was stable and would endure.’ E.G. told K.M. that she ‘had seen too many lesbian relationships end quickly, and she did not want to be in a custody battle.’ E.G. and K.M. agreed they would not tell anyone that K.M. was the ova donor.”
It was reading between these particular lines that sadness welled up within me: Neither of these women really trusted one another.
These are not pioneering women, standing bravely on the vanguard of social change. They were afraid: afraid of each other, afraid of being hurt. This custody dispute, which has been going on for four years now, is the nightmare scenario they were trying to avoid. They were “registered domestic partners,” but they still could not really entrust themselves to each other.
Listen to our Holy Mother once again. In the abstract theological language of Catechism No. 2377, she tries to warn us against, “dissociat[ing] the sexual act from the procreative act. The act which brings the child into existence is no longer an act by which two persons give themselves to one another, but one that entrusts the life and identity of the embryo into the power of doctors and biologists and establishes the domination of technology over the origin and destiny of the human person.”
These two women, for whatever reason, did not want to form a relationship with their child's male parent. They thought they could use technology to bypass the problems associated with a messy relationship with the opposite sex.
In the end, they could not really give themselves to each other either. They ended up with a pair of twins whom they both love, and a life-long entanglement with the “other mother.” Neither of these women got what they wanted or expected.
Our Holy Mother would hardly have been surprised. And she shakes her head, and weeps for her children's foolishness.
Jennifer Roback Morse is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution.