Melanie Phillips

21 November 2007

A fatherless law

Published in: Daily Mail

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What is that strange and unfamiliar noise, a bit like the distant rumble of a dam breaking or tectonic plates on the move? It is the almost forgotten sound of a civilisation fighting back.

For years we have watched helplessly the undermining of the traditional family, which has been relentlessly attacked by an alliance of feminists, gay rights activists, divorce lawyers and ‘cultural Marxists’ who grasped that this was the surest way to destroy Western society.

Stitch by stitch, the fabric of family life was unpicked. Sex, marriage and childbearing were separated from each other. Divorce became easier. Lone parenthood and illegitimacy were de-stigmatised, cohabitation became routine and marriage was penalised through the tax and benefits system. The outcome has been an epidemic of fatherlessness and a rising tide of juvenile misery and social breakdown.

While this catastrophe was unfolding, however, there was scarcely any public opposition. Those who did put their heads above the parapet were vilified as moralising dinosaurs out to wreck personal happiness. Politicians ran for cover. The Church wrung its hands but went with the flow.

The issue became more toxic still with the arrival of a movement that demanded for gay people the same ‘rights’ to family life as heterosexuals — cohabitation benefits, gay adoption, the promotion of gay sexuality in schools.

Anyone who objected was crucified as ‘homophobic’, creating a climate of rampant intimidation and cultural bullying which has successfully stifled debate and dragooned politicians into line.

But now at last a stand is being taken. MPs and peers from all parties, backed by Anglican and Catholic churchmen and led by the former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith, have united against a proposed new law — part of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill — which would lift the requirement on IVF clinics to take into account a child’s need for a father when considering applications by single or lesbian women.

As Mr Duncan Smith says, this would be yet another nail in the coffin of the traditional family. For it reduces the role of a father to mere sperm donor and writes him out of the life of the child he has helped produce.

And what we know beyond a shadow of a doubt is that children need their fathers. Fatherlessness lies at the heart of just about every social ill our society faces, from educational failure to drug abuse to violent crime.

It is bad enough that our society has made it so attractive for women to bring up children alone. It is bad enough that many IVF clinics turn a blind eye to the single or lesbian status of the women they enable to have a baby, breaching their legal requirement to ensure that a father will be involved.

For the Government to cut out of the law any official recognition that the involvement of a father matters to a child is to bestow upon such harmful irresponsibility the imprimatur of official approval.

IVF was developed to end the pain of childlessness, but it is being used in these circumstances to inflict another kind of pain on the child that it is creating. The Government should be ensuring that these clinics adhere to the law - which is framed to protect the interests of the child.

But instead it intends to change the law to fit the fact that it is being ignored. This is precisely the way family life has been unravelled over the years.

First the requirements of divorce law are disregarded; then the Government decides that the law has to change to keep up with these flagrant breaches which it describes as social change; then this liberalisation means more people start to cohabit; then there is pressure to give cohabitants equal rights with married couples.

And as the legal ratchet relentlessly turns in this way, so the role of the law in protecting the interests of both individuals and society progressively unwinds.

This latest notch on the ratchet will not just harm individuals but will help destroy our understanding of human identity.

For it means that lesbian couples would be regarded as the joint legal parents of children conceived through the use of donated sperm, eggs or embryos, with one woman registered as the mother and the other as the second parent.

But this would be a lie. The second parent is the man who donates the sperm. So this new law will redefine a parent as merely a carer, and thus snap the link between biology and parenthood altogether. Having two ‘mothers’ — or two ‘fathers’, for that matter — is grotesque and wrong. Although there is not yet sufficient research to say for sure, there are certainly grounds for concern that such households load the dice against children’s interests.

A child needs to be brought up by a mother and father for the fundamental reason that the child’s identity was created by a man and a woman, and is only safely nurtured in a household that embodies that fact.

Worse still, this proposed law would actually prevent certain children from having a legal father. Far from addressing the blight of fatherlessness, the Government will now make it impossible for some children to have a father at all.

Men already believe they have become marginalised as sperm factories, walking wallets and occasional au pairs. By deepening their belief that a feminised Britain views them as surplus to requirements, this measure will therefore act as a further spur to male irresponsibility.

It is also part of a wider process of writing the traditional family out of the national script. The words husband and wife have been steadily removed from official forms and replaced by the word ‘partner’. More insidiously still, despite —or, perhaps, because of — the fact that research two decades ago showed that children were no less than 20 to 33 times safer when they lived with their biological parents rather than in any other type of household, official statistics no longer record marital status, so it has now become impossible to find out about the relative risks of biological and non-biological parents.

It is not surprising that Mr Duncan Smith is leading the campaign against this new proposal. With his Centre for Social Justice highlighting the devastating effects of family breakdown, he has single-handedly changed the terms of public debate and given the Tory party the courage to champion the cause of marriage.

Nevertheless, there is bound to be a certain amount of tooth-sucking in the higher echelons of his party over this latest salvo.

For David Cameron has gone out of his way to support the gay rights agenda, including gay adoption, on the basis that this is completely separate from and does not contradict his championing of marriage and the traditional family.

This is deeply misguided. While the damage done to family life has been overwhelmingly done by heterosexuals, simply by virtue of the numbers involved, the Cameroons’ argument falls down completely when it comes to children.

For they can’t argue that marriage is important because two committed parents are crucial to a child’s well-being, while simultaneously promoting gay parenting, the exclusion of legal fatherhood and the redefinition of a parent into cynical and dehumanising absurdity.

It will therefore be fascinating to see whether the Tory leadership backs Mr Duncan Smith or not. Only then will we have a better indication, in the fightback to save our civilisation, which side the Conservative party is on.

About Melanie

Melanie Phillips is a British journalist and author. She is best known for her controversial column about political and social issues which currently appears in the Daily Mail. Awarded the Orwell Prize for journalism in 1996, she is the author of All Must Have Prizes, an acclaimed study of Britain's educational and moral crisis, which provoked the fury of educationists and the delight and relief of parents.

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Melanie Phillips
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