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Mother and Father Replaced by Parent 1 and Parent 2

Fox News heralds the passing of traditional language: ‘Mother,’ ‘Father’ Changing to ‘Parent One,’ ‘Parent Two’ on Passport Applications

The words “mother” and “father” will be removed from U.S. passport applications and replaced with gender neutral terminology, the State Department says.
“The words in the old form were ‘mother’ and ‘father,'” said Brenda Sprague, deputy assistant Secretary of State for Passport Services. “They are now ‘parent one’ and ‘parent two.'”

A statement on the State Department website noted: “These improvements are being made to provide a gender neutral description of a child’s parents and in recognition of different types of families.” The statement didn’t note if it was for child applications only.

The State Department said the new passport applications, not yet available to the public, will be available online soon.

Sprague said the decision to remove the traditional parenting names was not an act of political correctness. “We find that with changes in medical science and reproductive technology that we are confronting situations now that we would not have anticipated 10 or 15 years ago,” she said.

Gay rights groups are applauding the decision. “Changing the term mother and father to the more global term of parent allows many different types of families to be able to go and apply for a passport for their child without feeling like the government doesn’t recognize their family,” said Jennifer Chrisler, executive director of Family Equality Council. Her organization lobbied the government for several years to remove the words from passport applications.

[...]

But some conservative Christians are outraged over the decision. “Only in the topsy-turvy world of left-wing political correctness could it be considered an ‘improvement’ for a birth-related document to provide less information about the circumstances of that birth,” Family Research Council president Tony Perkins wrote in a statement to Fox News Radio. “This is clearly designed to advance the causes of same-sex ‘marriage’ and homosexual parenting without statutory authority, and violates the spirit if not the letter of the Defense of Marriage Act.”

Robert Jeffress, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, agreed. “It’s part of an overall attempt at political correctness to diminish the distinction between men and women and to somehow suggest you don’t need both a father and a mother to raise a child successfully,” said Jeffress. “(This decision) was made to make homosexual couples feel more comfortable in rearing children.”

First, yes, this will be for children’s passports only.  The question does not appear on the adult applications.   (I’ve just filled out my renewal.)

Second, of course this is political correctness. Wikipedia‘s definitions strike me as reasonable: “language, ideas, policies, and behavior seen as seeking to minimize social and institutional offense in occupational, gender, racial, cultural, sexual orientation, religious belief, disability, and age-related contexts.” The entry notes that “In current usage, the term is primarily pejorative” and that “In these cases, the term politically incorrect connotes language, ideas, and behavior unconstrained by a perceived orthodoxy or by concerns about offending or expressing bias regarding various groups of people.”

The rationale for changing the everyday words “mother” and “father” to the awkward and bureaucratic “Parent 1″ and “Parent 2″ is precisely to avoid giving offense to parents in situations where there is no mother or father.

But so what?   My sense of fatherhood is not going to be undermined 3 years from now when I renew Katie’s passport and am reduced to Parent 1 — or is that Parent 2?! — rather than Father.   The two seconds it takes me to fill out that part of the form will neither diminish my self-identification as a man nor my connection to my daughter (aka Child 1).

And, while Chrisler and company are perhaps overly sensitive, the State Department is right:  There are indeed “multiple types of families” in existence.    As anathema as the concept may have been two decades ago, sometimes Heather really does have two mommies.

The purpose of including the parents’ names on the child’s passport isn’t to trace genealogy but rather to establish legal custody.  Indeed, both parents must appear in person, with the child, and present birth certificates and other government documents to demonstrate they have the right to take the child overseas.   (In the case of single parents, they must document that they have sole custody.  In the case of guardians, they must document guardianship.)

In light of the intended purpose, Parent 1 and Parent 2 are not only more politically correct than Mother and Father, they’re actually more useful.  And not just for same-sex couples.

In the case of a child with, for example, a mother, a living biological father, and a living adoptive father, the application wants the names of the mother and adoptive father, not the mother and biological father.  Why?  The biological father has no authority over the child’s travel.

And, of course, in the case of lesbian couples in which one is the biological mother and the other the adoptive mother — or, as is increasingly the case, neither is the biological mother and they’re both adoptive — the application wants the names of the two people who have the legal right to take the kid out of the country.   While they typically overlap, who the “mother” and “father” are is immaterial to the application.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. john personna says:

    Scoff. It should be pN and *p[]

    (c joke)

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  2. Jeff says:

    should be Guardian 1 and Guardian 2

    in many cases of same sex “parents” neither person was involved in the birth … they are “parents” in legal name only so guardian is a better description …

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  3. James Joyner says:

    @Jeff:

    Guardians have a different legal status than parents. If you adopt a child, you’re its parent, not its guardian.

    The form does allow for legal guardians to sign as parents in the event there are no parents.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  4. JKB says:

    Unless they ask specifically elsewhere, they really do need to label them Parent/guardian. I always found it annoying to figure out what some form wanted when I was growing up, back when any non-traditional family was unusual, my parent’s name or who raised me. But it did avoid a lot of writing by entering: mother/father’s name (deceased). Saved all that address info. Although as a smart aleck teen, I did enter the address of the cemetery a couple of times.

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  5. James Joyner says:

    @JKB: Parent/Guardian would actually be a preferable formulation. Not so much out of sensitivity but, as you say, confusion avoidance. Since the parent/guardian actually has to show up with appropriate paperwork, they’ll ultimately get it right. But, since they’ll fill out the forms ahead of time, it’s a bit confusing in cases where parents are living but guardianship is held by another party.

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  6. Michael says:

    Scoff. It should be pN and *p[]

    (c joke)

    C is politically incorrect and offensive to dynamically-typed Americans.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  7. Gilbert says:

    Hi James, or should I call you Internet blogger 14,283?

    I think the number bothers some people more than the parent designation. Having two spots called Parent and Parent, or as has been suggested, Parent / Guardian and Parent / Guardian.

    Besides, I can see trouble down the road. The idea that a child can only have two parents or guardians is increasingly outmoded. A polygamous family should “be able to go and apply for a passport for their child without feeling like the government doesn’t recognize their family”.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  8. HelloWorld says:

    I can understand concern about terminology – this provides ancedotal proof of a gay conspiracy to undermine the american family. I think a better approach would be to have 2 blanks that both state “Mother/Father”, or a checkbox.

    I also think this move in a small way helps remove a stigma with gay adoptive parents, so that is a good thing.

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  9. Davebo says:

    A polygamous family should “be able to go and apply for a passport for their child without feeling like the government doesn’t recognize their family”.

    Perhaps they feel that way because the government indeed doesn’t recognize their family?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  10. wr says:

    I’ts not about that ludicrous conservative shibboleth “political correctness.” It’s about reflecting reality.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 3

  11. Janis Gore says:

    What’s the procedure for a parent and a non-adoptive step-parent traveling with a child? The one parent and notarized statement of consent from the other?

    Just curious.

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  12. rodney dill says:

    ….and the children will be known as Ungrateful Unit 1….N

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  13. Michael says:

    Besides, I can see trouble down the road. The idea that a child can only have two parents or guardians is increasingly outmoded. A polygamous family should “be able to go and apply for a passport for their child without feeling like the government doesn’t recognize their family”.

    In that instance, the government can simply say: “Two listed parents/guardians is all that is necessary”.

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  14. Axel Edgren says:

    Basically, it is the job of a government that is founded on equality for all citizens to recognize social and civil changes like this. Those who malign this decision are either too obsessed with anti-PC ranting or simply doesn’t want the government to recognize families that are not “usual”.

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  15. James Joyner says:

    @Janis Gore: “What’s the procedure for a parent and a non-adoptive step-parent traveling with a child? The one parent and notarized statement of consent from the other?”

    In terms of the passport application, both custodial parents need to be present. If one has sole custody, court documents to that effect are required. If one is deceased and there isn’t an adoptive parent, a death certificate would presumably suffice.

    In terms of the actual travel, I’m pretty sure one parent, named on the passport, is sufficient.

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  16. Janis Gore says:

    That’s something of a mess. Divorced parents don’t always live a convenient distance from one another.

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  17. dude says:

    Can you swap parent designations as you wish. Say during a child renew decide parent 1 really isn’t all that hot, so parent 2 gets promoted?

    Everything the government touches it screws up.

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  18. James Joyner says:

    @Janis: “Divorced parents don’t always live a convenient distance from one another.”

    True. But that usually means one parent is sole custodian and the other has visitation rights. Not sure how you’d do joint custody without proximity.

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  19. Janis Gore says:

    The parting between my husband and the mother of his sons was amicable enough, and I don’t think either parent sought sole custody. But the boys’ mother did move to Dallas, about 400 miles away.

    I’ll have to ask. I came along when the younger was 18.

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  20. [...] matters for passports isn’t just diminished, it’s deceased. The purpose of the form, as James Joyner points out, “isn’t to trace genealogy but rather to establish legal custody. Indeed, both [...]

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  21. [...] matters for passports isn’t just diminished, it’s deceased. The purpose of the form, as James Joyner points out, “isn’t to trace genealogy but rather to establish legal custody. Indeed, both [...]

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  22. 11B40 says:

    Greetings:

    Coulda been worser. They coulda gone with “Village #1″ and “Village #2″.

    Or added “Parent #3″ and “Parent # 4″

    And how are they going to handle that Columbia University professor’s, who”enamorata” is his adult daughter if they have children? Inquiring minds want to know now.

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  23. mattt says:

    Why is this “politically correct,” and not just “correct?” There are many thousands of children in America today who have two “mothers” or two “fathers.” A form that forces a man to be listed as a “mother” or woman as a “father” is simply noncompliant with current law and custom.

    I’m neither applauding nor condemning this state of parental affairs btw, just tired to death of this “PC” bogeyman.

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  24. tvance says:

    Who is most proud of YOU? Parent 1, 2, 3 or maybe 4

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  25. James Joyner says:

    @mattt: “I’m neither applauding nor condemning this state of parental affairs btw, just tired to death of this “PC” bogeyman.”

    I’m not using “PC” as a “bogeyman.” I’m merely acknowledging that we’re making this move largely for reasons of social sensitivity. Even in today’s much changed social climate, most kids still have a “Mother” and a “Father” who aren’t offended by these categories. A tiny, tiny fraction have two male or two female custodial parents.

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  26. mattt says:

    Thanks for the reply James. And I have to say this seems like a very small issue after what happened in AZ. Still….

    There are lots of lines on government forms that apply only to tiny, tiny fractions of the citizenry. Are they superfluous? What is the actual cut-off point, the number of citizens who must be affected by a change in terminology, for that group to be worthy of accurate description on a government form?

    I mean, these forms are updated all the time. It cost the government almost nothing to do this. I bet the PR effort to explain the change and fend off right-wing criticism will cost more in time and money than the change in language itself.

    Why do you begrudge same-sex parents the right to be accurately described on an important government form, and prefer that they continue to face the indignity of a woman forced to identify as a man, or vice versa? Because by dismissing this effort at accomodation as mere “PC” you are expressing that preference, and your comments work objectively to marginalize same-sex parents and their children. Sounds like wielding a “bogeyman” to me.

    I’m not calling you a “hater,” just trying to show how these comments sound from a different perspective.

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  27. Franklin says:

    [i] Scoff. It should be pN and *p[]

    (c joke)

    C is politically incorrect and offensive to dynamically-typed Americans.[/i]

    I was more offended that someone was using one or two-letter variable names.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  28. Franklin says:

    Wow, you can tell I don’t program HTML … let’s try this again …

    Scoff. It should be pN and *p[]

    (c joke)

    C is politically incorrect and offensive to dynamically-typed Americans.

    I was more offended that someone was using one or two-letter variable names.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  29. Scott says:

    Oh boo-hoo.
    First of all, leave it to the Xtians to take issue/offense to this modification to a federal document. Notice this does not apply to remarried adults who opt not to adopt children from outside that particular marriage. You know, that thing that has a whole Act in defense of it. Suffice it to say that marriage is not strictly a religious (let alone Xtian) entity – if there is legislation on the issue of marriage, then it is a legal entity. Why defend it when married people can divorce willy-nilly? That’s another topic for another time. I’d like to point out to the Xtians who take exception to this that the book you so closely follow advocated the subjugation of women, up to and including offering one’s daughters up to be raped to appease a crowd and a prophet that cursed a fig tree when it had no fruit for him to eat. That’s a super philosophy to subscribe to if you ask me. The fact of the matter is that people are so consumed with what they are referred to, that the bigger picture is totally lost in debates like these. Get over yourselves and move on.

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  30. J. Harold McBrayer, Jr. says:

    Parent One et Parent Two—absurd!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  31. F5 group 5 says:

    If such kind of couples are not bringing up children, the children’s psychology may be damaged.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1