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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

By Marc Fisher |  September 2, 2008; 8:37 AM ET
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Comments

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"...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." Yes, and how about when the child has been in a loving home for three or four years, and THEN the birth parents use the father's rights to regain custody (see the Baby Richard and Baby Jessica cases).

I agree that "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," but the good of the CHILDREN absolutely must come first. If the father was lied to for several years and then says he would have wanted the child - it's too late! Period! If adults truly care about the child, they will leave him to his stable home and family, the only family he has ever known, rather than selfishly transferring the pain they are feeling for their own actions and their partners' actions onto the innocent child.

Posted by: Lila1 | September 2, 2008 10:10 AM

Shouldn't this law work both ways?

If the male doesn't register their sexual activity, then they shouldn't be accountable for child support either, right?

Posted by: SoMD | September 2, 2008 10:22 AM

I wonder if this is a searchable database so you can see if yo' woman is fooling around?

Posted by: Stick | September 2, 2008 10:28 AM

"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."

Or, 64 *very* busy guys.

bc

Posted by: bc | September 2, 2008 10:58 AM

This should work the other way around too: When a woman has sex with a guy, she could register too, make sure he steps up if "the condom broke"

Posted by: ca | September 2, 2008 11:28 AM

So, like, they, y'know, like, don't, like, have this in Alaska, y'know?
Cool, dude.

Posted by: Levi | September 2, 2008 12:23 PM

Mr. Fisher,
I'm sure you think this is a cute column idea - but you should learn a thing or two about adoption, Virginia law, and something called Best Interest of the Child before you go around making outlandish statements about an important tool in strengthening families in Virginia and 25-30 other states.

Posted by: John | September 2, 2008 1:03 PM

Marc, do you even KNOW what an order of publication would look like in this case? Let's say mommy doesn't know who daddy is. The publication is done in some small-scale paper. It will read something like, "unknown father of Mary Carter, d.o.b. 8/12/05 to Jane Carter." The it goes on to say something about come forward to protect his rights, blah, blah, blah. Yeah, all the guys I know read the classifieds of small papers to see if they've gotten a dividend from their night(s) of careless sex. It's gotten so bad that local DFSs have to do orders of publication for known AND unknown fathers because of the folks who engage in careless sex. Is it silly? Sure is. Do you have a better suggestion for protecting children who need to be adopted, and folks who want to adopt them? I'm getting sick and tire of folks acting irresponsibly, and then complaining about it. (Wo)man up folks!

Posted by: Anonymous | September 2, 2008 1:23 PM

Oh, what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practice to conceive.

Posted by: Bill | September 2, 2008 1:38 PM

I thought this was gonna be about Gov Pallin.

Posted by: Terry | September 2, 2008 2:40 PM

Marc, did you register yet?

Posted by: Ha Ha | September 2, 2008 3:06 PM

I was going to register, then I remembered:

My gun is firing blanks.

Posted by: DC Voter | September 3, 2008 10:59 AM

Did John Edwards help write this law?

Posted by: T. Kennedy | September 3, 2008 12:24 PM

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