Waldlaw Blog

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Back to Blogging! and the International Society of Family Law

Sorry for the long absence -- lots of work, children on summer vacation and a big conference to attend all ganged up to get the better of me. But I'm back, and will try to stay that way. So let me tell you about the conference. I just returned last night from Salt Lake City, where I attended the 12th World Conference of the International Society of Family Law. This was a fascinating experience, for a number of reasons. (1) The conference itself. Over 30 countries were represented, including much of Europe, Canada, South Africa, Brazil.... It was a wonderful exercise in shaking off the regionalism that so many of us fall into. (2) In past years, at past conferences I have attended of one sort or another, to the extent that the "gay agenda" came up at all, the U.S. clearly had bragging rights for being the most advanced in our thinking. Boy is this no longer so! There I was with family law attorneys from Canada, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden.... It was inspiring and fascinating to hear the Canadian attorneys, in particular, talk about the passage of the federal gay marriage bill in Canada, which actually was signed into law while we were at the conference. The U.S. has a lot of catching up to do!! (3) On children's rights issues, and parentage issues, the rest of the world appears to be shocked at two closely-related things about our law here: (a) the extent to which our decisions about parentage and custody focus on the need to attach children to people who can pay for them (e.g. it's amazing the extent to which parentage decisions are driven by the need to find people to hold accountable for child support) and (b) the extent to which our country doesn't take fiscal or social responsibility for our children, as a country, but puts this instead on individuals. This came up repeatedly, in discussions of the problems with our foster care system; in discussions about the need for welfare reform. The rest of the world appears shocked at the extent to which our government has ducked out on its responsibility to care for our nation's children. As am I. 'Nuf said. (4) Utah is a trip. If you don't know what I mean, go spend a couple of days hanging out at Brigham Young University. Or even take a walk through downtown Salt Lake City. Okay, I admit that I was probably naive going into this. I hadn't ever been in Utah, and hadn't thought much about the iron grip of the mormon church. But it was pretty interesting to attend an international conference where no alcohol was ever served with any meal -- not even the occasional bottle of wine at dinner -- and caffeinated beverages, from coffee to Pepsi, were unavailable during breaks. Oh but there was sugar -- every meal included fruit punch of one sort or another, and chocolate abounded. So it's apparently not about stimulants, per se -- just the ones that Brigham Young's visions told him were inappropriate. Or something like that. Anyway, it was a "culturally interesting" experience, to put it mildly. (5) And then there was the marriage thing. First, let me be clear. I have absolutely nothing against marriage. Well, not much anyway. But I don't think that it can automatically cure every problem in the world. Which apparently puts me at odds with much of the law faculty at Brigham Young University. Because as far as I could tell, they believe that marriage in and of itself can cure poverty, depression, drug abuse.... I hadn't realized, before this conference, that children raised outside of the safety of a heterosexual marriage were so much more likely to suffer from mental illness, criminality, and so many other social ills. And economics apparently has little or nothing to do with it. It's all about marriage. So all you heterosexuals out there -- grab the closest person of the other sex you can find and -- GET MARRIED!! RIGHT AWAY!! YOU OWE IT TO THE CHILDREN!! Okay, sorry, I just had to get that out of my system. Anyway, the conference was very, very interesting, and the chance to dialogue on family law issues with attorneys and law professors from so many states and countries was wonderful. Lots of good discussions about really key issues like how we define parenthood (my personal favorite) and the portability of same-sex marriages and partnerships across state and international borders. I, myself, presented a paper on the establishment of parenthood in non-traditional families, in which I looked at the interplay between genetics, parental conduct and procreative intent as factors in determining who is a legal parent. It was very well received, and I hope to be publishing the paper this fall. I'll keep you posted. In the meantime, it's great to be back in San Francisco, and I hope you're all having a good summer!

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