Hello, Governor, I'm Just Calling To Say I Had Sex
I don't think Gov. Tim Kaine is fielding the calls, but did you know that for the past year, the Virginia state government has been compiling a registry of men who had sexual relations with that woman, or that woman, or any woman not their wife?
The Putative Father Registry, a creation of your Virginia General Assembly, is meant to allow men in the commonwealth with a way to stake their claim to any children who might result from their extramarital or premarital relations. It's a simple procedure: You go out and do your thing, then, for the price of a postage stamp, you let the state know with whom you've had relations and bingo, if a child is produced, you've just protected your parental rights!
You can sign up as many times as you like, after each encounter, or once for each new partner, as you wish. But watch out: If you don't let the state know ahead of any dispute over whose kid it is, or ahead of any effort by the mother or anyone else to put the baby up for adoption, Virginia will assume that you don't exist. That's right, whereas once the authorities might have made an effort to find the father before putting a child up for adoption, the existence of the Putative Father Registry means the state now washes its hands of that obligation. If you haven't registered your sexual encounter in Richmond, you are outta luck.
As the Daily Press of Hampton Roads reported last week, in the registry's first year of operation, a grand total of 64 men in Virginia have availed themselves of this splendid opportunity to create an official record of their sexual activities. My, what law-abiding, morally upstanding men Virginia has!
Oh, I suppose it's possible that a bit more than 64 men had sex with women not their wives, and perhaps some of those relationships resulted in the birth of a child. Indeed, the Daily Press story says that in the most recent year for which statistics are available, 33,681 nonmarital live births occurred in Virginia.
Which would imply that this law is not exactly entirely all about protecting the rights of men who might want to take care of children whose existence they may not even know about. No, it seems quite possible that the primary motivation here is to absolve the state or adoption authorities of the task of sending someone out to try to find missing fathers and getting them to take responsibility for what they have created.
As one summary of the Virginia law puts it, "No longer will adoptive parents and adoption agencies have to chase the unmarried birth father and ask for his consent to adoption or notify him by an order of publication. The unmarried birth father is now responsible for coming forward and declaring his interest in the adoption proceeding."
No one wants to gum up the adoption process any more than is absolutely necessary. And we can only have limited sympathy for putative fathers who first discover their devotion to their long-ignored offspring at the moment when the child is about to be sent to a loving home.
But just because some, even many, of these guys may be scoundrels doesn't mean that the state should be able to use a legal trick to strip all putative fathers of their parental rights without making some effort to find and contact the fathers.
The lawyers who have pushed for such registries around the nation argue that adoption rights in these cases supersede the rights of absent fathers. Ever since a 1972 Supreme Court affirming granting parental rights for men who father children out of wedlock, the adoption process has been annoyingly, painfully messy. Efforts to smooth it out are admirable. There's also merit in giving men a mechanism for declaring their legal interest in a child even in cases where the mother has excluded the man from raising the child.
But that mechanism shouldn't be based on the ridiculous premise that many, most or all men will sign up with a state registry every time they have a new partner. And the existence of that registry shouldn't be sufficient grounds for telling a father that by his inaction, he has forfeited his rights regarding his child.
There should be a better way, shouldn't there?
Please join me at noon today for a discussion of the rough road the Washington Nationals face as they try to reestablish baseball in the nation's capital. My guests will be one of the region's biggest baseball boosters--longtime radio talk show host Phil Wood--and a big time baseball skeptic, Post sports bogger Dan Steinberg. That's at noon today--or anytime thereafter--on "Raw Fisher Radio" at www.washingtonpost.com/rawfisherradio
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