Single moms parenting alone have long asked "Do I have to list the father's name on the birth certificate?" A new proposal in Illinois, filed by state Representative John D. Cavaletto (R), takes the debate to a new level. If passed, the proposal would allow the state to deny birth certificates to single mothers who fail to either identify the biological father on the birth certificate application or supply the name of a family member willing to help bear the financial responsibility of raising the child.
The proposal would amend the state's Vital Records Act, which currently allows unmarried moms to list the biological father's name on the birth certificate.
The proposal, as listed on the Illinois General Assembly website, includes the following language:
- "...if the unmarried mother cannot or refuses to name the child's father, either a father must be conclusively established by DNA evidence or, within 30 days after birth, another family member who will financially provide for the child must be named, in court, on the birth certificate."
- "...absent DNA evidence or a family member's name, a birth certificate will not be issued and the mother will be ineligible for financial aid from the State for support of the child."
Exceptions to Illinois' Proposed Changes to the Vital Records Act
The bill provides an exception for women whose pregnancies were the result of artificial insemination.
However, it does not list other exceptions or appear to propose consequences for biological fathers who refuse to participate in formally acknowledging paternity or make themselves available for DNA testing.
What's Wrong With Illinois' Proposed Birth Certificate Restrictions for Single Moms
In addition to failing to address the role of fathers in acknowledging paternity, there are a number of significant problems with this bill, including:
- The presumption that a family member must 'co-sign' the financial responsibility of raising the child. Kids aren't cars or houses. Yet, this bill essentially sets up a 'co-signing' paradigm where birth mothers unable to identify the biological father within 30 days of the birth must name a financially stable 'fill in.' It's presumptuous to think that every new single mom has such a person in her life. And, sadly, the requirement could produce an unintended consequence: an increase in terminations.
- It perpetuates the stigma against single moms. While the purpose of the bill is largely economic—in that it attempts to prevent the state from having to fund public assistance programs for children whose fathers could potentially be held responsible for paying child support—there's no getting around the fact that it fuels the negative rhetoric against single moms. Why is it that so many legislators are bent on blaming single moms, who are already making every sacrifice imaginable to care for their children?
- Denying the birth certificate punishes the child. Do proponents of the bill actually intend for these children not to be recognized as citizens? The idea that they would be denied access to Social Security cards and passports is nothing short of absurd.
- There are other ways to address the financial issue. It's fair that 'the state' (any state) shouldn't have to bear the financial responsibility for raising a child when the biological father could contribute. And that's precisely why most states already require single, unmarried moms to cooperate in attempting to establish paternity before they can be considered eligible for programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). What's different about the bill proposed in Illinois is that it presumes from the outset that all single mothers will find themselves in need of government assistance. Surely there are other ways to expedite paternity investigations when the need arises.