Recently, we were passing time in downtown Amherst, before the start of a movie. A cluster of people on the adjacent sidewalk were greeting each other with some happy excitement. It was clear from our vantage point that the four women were parents of the four children. This inference was confirmed when we heard of one the moms ask one of the children "do you know your donor?"
In today's family, parentage is often not a simple matter. Biological fathers who come to life creation at some remove, are common. Their service ranges from heterosexual spouses with fertility challenges, to singles who desire parenthood without a partner, and lesbian couples. The donors vary in their relationships to the legal parents-to-be, from anonymous, to known strangers, to friends and even family members. Sometimes expectations are mutual in terms of personal contact with the children to be produced. Other times ambiguity reigns. So, too, with the matter of support.
A recent case in Kansas determined that a biological father who came to conception by a private donor arrangement could be ordered to pay child support, while one whose participation involved the medical community would not. The Boston Globe editorialized against the result, acknowleged to be based on a technical reading of a donor parenting statute, especially in light of the fact that the lesbian former partner of the biological mother was not held to financial account because that state does not recognize same sex marriage.
The question of sperm donors and their role in our family lives is fascinating, and as complicated as the lives of each individual family. Some, as the families that we encountered as observers on a street corner, celebrate donors as a part of the family - to one degree or another - while others remain in the shadows forever. Should this make a difference when child support becomes an issue? Should the means of conception?
It not the nature of our legal system to look at questions like this comprehensively or from a macro perspective. Instead, decisions are made piecemeal by a crazy quilt of legislative, administrative and judicial decisions. Federalism and evolution of societal mores make this inevitable, if unfortunate. A uniform rule so that people truly know what they are doing when they create life in "modern" ways would be better for everyone.
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