At first I thought I was hearing it wrong. A lesbian couple who had a daughter through artificial insemination was chasing the sperm donor for child support.
“That can’t be right,” I said.
It wasn’t. Actually, the government was chasing the sperm donor for child support.
Sound crazy? Read on. The lesbian couple split up after the child was born. The mother – by that I mean the partner who carried the child – lost her job and applied for public assistance to help pay for her little girl. The state of Kansas (where this is all happening) said, OK, we’ll give you some funds, but only if you tell us who the father is so that we can hit him up for support.
Next thing you know, the Baby Daddy Donor gets a phone call from the state, telling him he owes $6,000 for his daughter. Needless to say, the guy was surprised. He’d had nothing to do with the child, wanted nothing to do with the child, signed a contract with the women agreeing he’d have nothing to do with the child and they’d have nothing to do with him.
But apparently because they didn’t go through a licensed physician, none of it mattered. As far as the state was concerned, somebody was the father. And the father is on the line when a kid’s needs are at stake.
And thus does a guy named William Marotta, 46, get hit up for $6,000, and tell the Huffington Post that “no good deed goes unpunished.”
Now, I don’t want to pass judgment on this case, largely because I don’t fully understand this case. The lesbians live in a state that obviously allows two women to raise a child together, yet, in at least some cases, does not recognize two women as adequate for financial responsibility.
Had Marotta and the couple worked through a licensed doctor, then somehow the state would not hold him responsible. The idea is obviously to make artificial insemination a more government-monitored activity.
But while that may help clarify things, can it really be the difference between a lifetime of responsibility or not? Either sperm makes you a father or it doesn’t. The fact that he handed off his legacy to a certain doctor first seems a pretty thin pencil with which to draw a line.
But then the lines are already fuzzy. I don’t mean to sound like an old fuddy-duddy, but let’s consider this story through how it would be viewed 50 years ago, in 1963.
An out-in-the-open lesbian couple (hardly common) goes to Craigslist (doesn’t exist yet) and posts an ad seeking a sperm donor (no one back then would run such an ad). Marotta contacts the couple via e-mail (doesn’t exist yet), signs a contract (I don’t think so) and four years later, his story is all over the Internet (doesn’t exist yet).
And you wonder why people are nostalgic.
I knew a guy a few years ago who had a baby with a woman. He was happy to be a father. Overjoyed, really. Then he discovered that he was not the biological dad, that the woman had misled him. Nonetheless, largely because his name was on the birth certificate, he was responsible for the costs of the child. It took a long time to legally untangle that mess.
The thinking there – and to some degree the thinking in the Kansas case – is that the child’s needs are more important than the adult’s rights. And a child can’t go without while grown-ups argue with each other.
But let’s admit it. When it comes to families, we are all over the map now. We’ve created a country where marriage varies from state to state, where insemination rules vary from state to state, where two men, two women, one of each or just one constitute a parental unit, where you can advertise to create a child, advertise to carry a child, advertise to adopt a child, yet insist that a man’s seed is connected to his bank account.
I don’t know what will happen in the Marotta case. I suspect it may reach the Kansas Supreme Court. All I know is the older I get, the less I think it’s my hearing that’s the problem. It’s believing what I hear.
Contact Albom, a columnist for the Detroit Free Press, at email@example.com.