Document Type


Publication Date

June 2008


This piece explores the relationship between legal and biological parenthood. It examines how neither history, nor evolutionary biology nor moral philosophy dictate a legal regime in which parenthood must be based on biological connection, but that attraction to a biological (or “bionormative”) regime remains strong. In explaining why, it suggests that much of what attracts people to bionormativity is not biology itself, but the way in which a biological regime constructs parenthood as a private, exclusive and binary enterprise. It is these ancillary qualities of bionormativity that people may care the most about. Today, a variety of forces put pressure on these ancillary qualities of bionormativity. The extent of child poverty, the rejection of (even the appearance of) monogamy and the use of donated gametes all, in different ways, bring into question the extent to which we may want parenthood to stay private, exclusive, binary and biological. The analysis presented here suggests that what is most destabilizing to a bionormative regime is not direct manipulation of biological material, but the fluid living patterns of contemporary adults. Because contemporary adult relationships are less likely to be permanently binary and exclusive, so is parenthood. When parenthood becomes less binary and exclusive, it becomes less private and less biological as well. The analysis presented also reveals that a construction of parenthood that is more public, more inclusive, less binary and less biological is a construction of hierarchical parenthood, or a parental regime in which some parents have substantially more parental rights and responsibilities than others. Recognizing degrees of parenthood may be an inevitable byproduct of a system that rejects bionormativity.

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Family Law Commons