Family issues aren’t typically the most prominent items on the legislative agenda, but they are always among the most important. Families are vital not only for their members’ happiness, but for building prosperous communities, a growing economy and a vibrant state. Family stability is correlated with positive outcomes for children, of course, but also with indicators of societal health.
On the marriage front, the Legislature is likely to consider legislation that would give a modest incentive to couples who receive premarital education. The hope would be to increase the percentage of couples who seek this education and, by extension, increase the strength of their marriage and decrease their chances of divorce.
Law is a teacher. Decades ago, when Utah followed other states in removing any consideration of wrongdoing by spouses in divorce cases, the inevitable (if unintentional) signal was that the decision to end a marriage was not as serious as it had been in the past.
Thus, it seems appropriate for the Legislature to take a modest step toward restoring the sense of seriousness to the state’s legal treatment of marriage. Increased support for premarital education may not entirely turn around longstanding trends towards family weakness, but it can signal the state’s recognition of the importance of the commitment.
Even if few couples take advantage of the option, the prospects for those couples will be brighter. Even modest increases in family stability will be invaluable for the spouses and the children affected.
There will surely be more controversial measures considered in 2018 as well.
A bill on surrogacy is currently being prepared for the 2018 session. Surrogacy is a contract where a couple (or sometimes a single person) arranges for a woman to carry a child to term so they can raise the child. The birth mother will have no legal relationship with the child. This is possible, of course, because of technology, but the law is at the center of these arrangements because the couple arranging for the surrogate can’t get what they want — the rights of a legal parent — unless the law provides an exception to the rule that the woman who bears a child is the child’s mother. One reason this is arising in Utah is that there is an ongoing lawsuit here trying to get the courts to approve surrogacy arrangements in which the child will have no legal mother at all.
Given recent changes to the legal definition of marriage, advocacy and professional groups are encouraging states to end restrictions on the acceptance of surrogacy contracts. Washington and New York are also considering legislation to facilitate these arrangements.
In the past, such contracts have been treated with great suspicion by many states because of inherent risks of exploitation of surrogates, disputes about special circumstances (such as a recent controversy in California where a couple allegedly demanded their surrogate have an abortion), and potentially inadequate vetting of prospective legal parents.
When Utah law was changed to allow surrogacy, the intention appeared to be to limit possible abuses of this nature by prohibiting payment in surrogacy contracts and by only recognizing contracts in which the intended parents were married.Comment on this story
These limitations, however, did not address concerns about treating children and women as commodities to be bargained for, questions of whether prospective surrogates are properly informed of risks (both physical and emotional), and the lack of safeguards for child safety. Unlike adoption, surrogacy is an arrangement between the adults without any requirement for showing a potential parent is fit through a home study and court oversight.
Increased regulation is not the answer for a practice that would much better be abandoned entirely.
The Legislature has an important opportunity to take a modest step to strengthen marriage and should do so. At the same time, it is being invited to take a serious misstep in the direction of facilitating contract pregnancies — a step it should forthrightly oppose.