A conservative Salt Lake City think tank is defending Utah’s adoption law and the hurdles it creates for unwed fathers, arguing a "natural family" that consists of a married man and woman is best equipped to rear a child.
The Sutherland Institute makes that case in an amicus brief, marking the first time the group has weighed in on an adoption case with its claim that such families are the "fundamental unit of society" — a view it says the state’s adoption statute upholds.
The institute filed the brief in opposition to an appeal filed by Bobby L. Nevares, of Colorado.
Nevares is contesting a judge’s decision to deny his paternity petition and block his attempt to get custody of his son, who was born and placed for adoption in Utah more than three years ago. The Utah Court of Appeals has not yet set a date to hear Nevares’ case.
William C. Duncan, an attorney for the not-for-profit Sutherland Institute, said the organization filed the brief after noting increased calls in recent years to provide more rights for unwed fathers in Utah’s adoption statute, which is widely regarded as one of the most restrictive in the nation when it comes to unmarried fathers’ rights.
The institute advocates for public policies that promote what it considers to be seven "core" values: personal responsibility; family; religion; private property; free markets; charity; and limited government. In 2005, it distributed a "natural-family resolution" supporting recognition of marriage between a man and a woman as "ordained by God" and homes as "open to a full quiver of children" to Utah cities. Just one — Kanab — adopted it.
In 2008, the institute established a Center for Family and Society to promote policies in line with its values, such as preserving marriage rights only for a man and a woman; eliminating no-fault divorce laws; and upholding "moral culture and local community standards." It opposes same-sex marriage and equates gay parents with single parents, both of whom place children at a "measurable disadvantage in terms of socioeconomic risks," according to a column by institute president Paul Mero.
Duncan said that rather than just advocate at the Utah Legislature, the institute decided to add its voice in pivotal court cases that threaten such values.
"Part of our mission is to promote that the family is the fundamental unit of society and ideally is based on marriage between a husband and a wife," Duncan said. "The question of whether the state can continue to privilege choices mothers make for children and ideal settings for child rearing — those questions go right at the heart of our mission."
A ‘novel claim’ » In the institute’s view, Nevares is making a "novel claim" to upend Utah’s adoption law by asking the court to create "a new, nebulous requirement" that would allow "late contests" from out-of-state fathers who failed to preserve their paternity rights before a birth mother relinquished a child.
Utah’s adoption law properly gives deference to unwed mothers who experience "more exacting consequences" than unwed fathers as a result of an unintended pregnancy, the institute argues.
"To use an extreme example, no father has ever died in childbirth, though, tragically, some mothers do," its brief notes.
Utah’s adoption statute requires unwed fathers to act speedily to assert their paternity to meet the best interests of children, mothers and the state in ensuring stable and permanent placements, it argues, a stance solidly based on "the reality that children conceived out of wedlock are at greatly increased risk to be either aborted or raised in difficult circumstances" that adoption by a married heterosexual couple overcomes.
The institute references census data and academic studies such as "Why Marriage Matters," produced by the Institute for American Values, to bolster its argument that single-parent home life is "often less than ideal," with more conflict between mother and child; less monitoring by mothers; more child poverty; more substance abuse; and higher levels of abuse, among other things. Children in stepparent families also are more likely to have problems, the institute says.
"Adoption, by contrast, often provides much better prospects for children," the brief states.
Unwed men such as Nevares have a simple means of avoiding paternity and adoption battles, the institute concludes: "Though he cannot insist on marriage, he has an absolute ability to refrain from engaging in a sexual relationship prior to marriage and has, to some degree, assumed the risk of not doing so."
‘Sorry for your loss’ » The case the institute chose to stamp with its views is not unlike many that end up in protracted legal battles in Utah. Nevares, in fact, is the second Colorado father to engage in such a fight.
In this case, Nevares and the birth mother had a brief relationship that spanned a few months before ending in January 2010.
Eight months later, the birth mother informed Nevares, then 20, she was pregnant and due to give birth Oct. 11, 2010. She also told Nevares she planned to place the infant for adoption; Nevares told her he was willing to take responsibility for and parent the child.Next Page >
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